16 April 2018

New standards for vehicles that can switch between autonomous and human driving will be vital in deciding who is liable for an accident during the ‘handover’ period, the latest VENTURER report from insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon has revealed.

The Government's Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will eventually create a list of vehicles that will be considered 'automated'[1], with liability to third parties falling on insurers. However, there will be many vehicles coming to market in the future which will allow the driver to 'handover' control to the vehicle and vice versa. This could create a grey area for liability, especially if an accident happens during the ‘handover’ between driver and vehicle. 

The current law expects the driver to be responsible for the vehicle at all times. This creates issues if there is a time lag in the driver regaining effective control after the vehicle has been driving autonomously.

The report, the second in a series of three looking at insurance and legal aspects linked to the VENTURER trials, recommends that government and industry take account of the issues encountered by drivers during the handover phase. It calls for new standards that reflect the real-world capability of drivers and avoid stifling the development of automated vehicles by unfairly penalising motorists. Manufacturers will need to design in safety and develop handover processes that reflect the reality of drivers’ capabilities.

VENTURER’s handover trials, looking at the return to ‘baseline’ driving across a range different indicators, highlighted the delays expected in regaining full control at different speeds, with drivers taking almost three seconds to do so at 20mph for example.

David Williams, Technical Director, AXA UK commented:

“AXA has supported the advent of driverless cars from the very beginning. It is exciting, through projects like VENTURER, to be at the forefront of a change that could have a profound, positive effect on society.

"People must understand, however, what the vehicles are capable of and, very importantly, what the law allows us to do (or not do) when travelling in them. Handover presents a complication for the basic liability model: how can we apportion responsibility between human driver and the vehicle fairly?"

Chris Jackson, Head of Transport at Burges Salmon, added:

"Setting the boundaries of driver and autonomous system liability will require a detailed understanding of how users interact with technology. Defining the parameters of handover is an important step in delivering the driverless experience which people will expect." 

The VENTURER project is now in its final year and the findings of the third legal and insurance report from AXA and Burges Salmon will reflect on the progress made over the past three years. Visit the AXA website to view the latest report in full.

[1] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/automatedandelectricvehicles.html

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Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson Partner

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