The recent tragedy involving an Uber autonomous car which hit a pedestrian crossing the road has put the spotlight on cars that are not under the control of a human driver. Apart from the technical issues, there are issues concerning legal liability and the continuing development of automated driving systems (ADS) for cars will lead to the most substantive changes in the 130-year history of the automotive industry.

This rapid evolution will bring radical changes to government regulations, industry practices, the potential obsolescence of human drivers and will also change the legal landscape for consumers, automakers, attorneys, insurance companies and others.

According to ‘Automated Vehicles: Liability Crash Course’, a report released by JD Power and global law firm of Miller Canfield, consumers are suspicious of technology failures and, relatedly, they desire to resolve ADS product liability claims out of court. Such an option provides consumers with a balance of time, compensation, personal investment and fairness that they seek.

The report is the result of a research project led by Miller Canfield and JD Power in collaboration with Mcity, a connected and automated vehicle research and testing centre located at the University of Michigan in the USA. Miller Canfield is one of the first law firms to establish a practice group specifically focused on addressing the legal needs of the rapidly growing ADS industry.

The report focusses on liability issues affecting ADS, with particular attention given to how ADS product liability claims may be resolved, as well as which data is most useful in reconstructing ADS accidents. This comes as traditional players (eg carmakers) and new, non-traditional entrants (eg Uber and Google) to the industry compete to introduce the first fully automated vehicles to the market.

It’s a big offence if you do this while driving a car but you can do so in an autonomous car.

JD Power surveyed more than 1,500 drivers who provided feedback regarding automated vehicle technology and their willingness to participate in alternative dispute resolution programs, as opposed to pursuing their claims through litigation. The study also obtained the viewpoints of top product liability litigators on the practical implications of litigating ADS product liability claims.

“Consumers are far more likely to settle product liability claims out of court, as long as they feel that there is transparency and fairness in the process,” said Zlatina Georgieva, Product Liability and Regulatory Compliance Attorney at Miller Canfield and co-author of the report.

If a car is not controlled by a human driver and has an accident, who will be liable for damages?

“Sentiment remains fragile towards automated vehicles as consumers are cautious and the need to build trust continues,” added Kristin Kolodge, Executive Director of Human Machine Interface at JD Power and co-author of the report. “Consumers express an expectation that collisions would not occur with automated vehicles and are holding ADS to a higher safety standard than traditional vehicles.”

The report includes a detailed analysis of consumer and litigator viewpoints and utilizes historical crash data and lessons learned from other industries as well as prior automotive litigation to devise proactive solutions for adapting to technological advancements.

Consumers are equally split if they would ride in a fully automated, self-driving vehicle, with 14% saying they ‘definitely would’, and 33% saying they ‘probably would’, compared with 29% saying they ‘probably would not’, and 17% saying they ‘definitely would not’.

More than half (51%) of consumers would pursue litigation for a Level 5 fully automated vehicle if it was involved in a collision and caused an injury. For this research, Level 5 is described as a vehicle where there is no human driver inside (only passengers); there is no steering wheel and the vehicle operates for the entire trip without any human intervention. For lower levels of automation, most consumers are unsure about pursuing litigation.

Claims resolved in an out-of-court, private proceeding with a one-time lump sum settlement represent an optimal consumer resolution method for ADS, regardless of injury type. 74% of consumers said they would share ADS vehicle data after a collision.

By the time autonomous vehicles are allowed on Malaysian roads, the legal issues will probably be sorted out. However, such vehicles are unlikely to be on Malaysians roads for many years to come. If there are such vehicles, they would probably be for testing purposes only.

Our road network and signage are still not good enough for autonomous vehicles which need to be able to ‘read’ signs to function safely. Furthermore, traffic behaviour is also dangerous with poor lane discipline, especially motorcyclists weaving in and out (an autonomous car might not be able to brake in time).

[Chips Yap]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *