Monday, January 28, 2013

Who will be liable for a driverless car accident?

Driverless cars will evolve from today’s self parking cars to fully autonomous cars in different steps as explained in a previous post “Driverless cars for the next decades in 4 steps”. This will have many impacts on auto insurers.

step 0: today’s self parking feature and Google cars
The fact that some cars can self park themselves do not have any impact on auto insurance, because though the car is self parking itself, it does it at a speed still controlled by the driver. So the driver is the main responsible for his car liability.

step 1: partially autonomous driverless cars
We’ve been told that Mercedes is going to sell a driverless car in 2013. But the car will be driverless for 10 seconds i.e. drivers will be allowed to have their hand off the steering wheel for a maximum of 10 seconds. As far as I read, the driver will still be liable if anything bad happens during the time he has his hands off the wheel.

For the following years, we can reasonably anticipate that these 10 seconds will become 20 then 30 seconds and even a minute. From here let’s ask a series of questions:

  • The biggest one being: “What is the limit from where drivers having an accident, when his car is in automated mode, will be able to attack the car manufacturer?
  • Who will decide what the limit is?
    • car manufacturers, government or insurers?
  • What if the US go for 35 seconds and europe for 25 seconds?
  • How do we prove that the accident happened while the car was in driverless mode?
    • Do driverless cars need some airplane like black boxes?

step 2: everyone can operate a driverless car
When everyone will be allowed to operate a driverless car, meaning telling it to drive automatically 100% from point A to point B, driverless car “operators” (I guess they are not “drivers” anymore) will not be liable for any accident anymore.

Who will be liable then for driverless car accident? Maybe the car manufacturer will be liable then. The car manufacturer will then transfer the fee to driverless car users. We can also imagine that driverless cars will now be leased and that they will be liable for any incident. Or maybe, will it be an auto repair shop responsible for car maintenance.

Most probably, will it be a mix of all those stakeholders.

Maybe, it won’t have any significant impact because driverless cars are supposed not to have any accident anymore...


  1. here is a 1st answer from a government: But the proposal by Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, actually goes further, saying the person who puts the vehicle into autonomous mode is considered the driver "regardless of whether the person is physically present in the motor vehicle." In

  2. I think the idea is quite cool and a way towards the future. The driver should still be liable for the car as it is only 10 seconds and you are still in the car. Cant wait to see and use the driverless cars!!

  3. In today's world technologies are improving day by day. Automotive industries is one of them. In a regular basis it introduce new new types of technologies in their vehicles. Recently it introduce a new type of car,that will be run without the help of driver. It is a good news for every car user. But every thing has a positive side and a negative side. The positive side of the car is it runs without the help of a driver, and the negative side is the chances of accident is more due to non control of the driver over car. So,in my point of view it is good to have a car which is driven by a driver rather than a driver less car.

  4. I'll never buy or drive a vehicle that I'm not in total control of. Three pedals and a stick is the way to go!