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The Impact of Autonomous Cars on Road Traffic Accidents in the UK

I recently read that a major car manufacture is moving closer to producing cars which ‘drive’ themselves. Essentially an auto pilot for cars.

As a Personal Injury Solicitor who represents people injured in Road Traffic Accidents across the UK, my first thought was, what impact would this have for a client who had been injured by an autonomous vehicle?

My second thought was what was behind the motivation for creating self-driving cars? This could be to help improve safety as human error is a factor in most car accidents. But do we trust computers any more than the humans who programme them?

Technology is a great thing but as we can see with most major technological advancements they don’t always work correctly 100% of the time. The problem in this case is that an error could cause an injury and in the most severe case a death; as I am on the front line of the effects this concerns me.

If we see this being rolled out in the future I believe that careful thought must be devoted to training and guidance for drivers/operators of these vehicles. It is likely that training sufficient to allow manufacturers to escape liability for accidents would have to be extensive and costly to them. Such cost is of course likely to be passed on to consumers in the cost of autonomous vehicles.

This is all conjecture as this technology is not readily available but it does pose quite a few questions for when it is… Who would be responsible if an autonomous vehicle were involved in an accident?

However, it seems to me that if the car requires a driver to programme it, the first port of call in respect of liability for a car accident would be that driver. One would have to consider if the programming was incorrect on the part of the driver or if his view of his role was misconceived and he could be considered to have been negligent. In that respect, the scope for human error could not be entirely removed from the equation.

To reach an accurate conclusion, one would also have to look at the information and guidance given to the driver for operating the vehicle. If inadequate or unclear guidance was issued by the manufacturer to the operator, then the manufacturer could face a finding of liability if that guidance were found to have caused an accident.

Alternatively, it may simply be that the technology fails and consequently causes a road traffic accident. Again, in that scenario, liability could attach to the manufacturer.

There are other possible scenarios which could be explored in relation to obligations to maintain the vehicles and warranties etc. but it seems obvious that human error cannot be eradicated when after all; these vehicles are designed and built by those very humans we seek to remove from the equation.

I guess that we will have to wait and see what happens, needless to say I would be very cautious sitting back and letting a computer do all the work!

Jane Cooper is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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Slater and Gordon are a leading personal injury law firm with 1,450 staff and offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Merseyside, Bristol, Newcastle, Halifax, Wakefield, Derby, Cambridge & meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire.