Kennedys tells government it must get people talking on autonomous vehicles

The government needs to do much more to bring stakeholders together if it is to successfully implement autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the UK, we have told the Law Commission’s consultation on the introduction of AVs in the UK.

In our response to the regulatory framework consultation for the safe deployment of AVs in the UK, which closed yesterday, we confirmed our belief that government need to work centrally to further facilitate meetings and communication between various stakeholders, and in particular between insurers and manufacturers.

We recognise that while there have been some steps from government to make this happen, a lot more needs to be done if it is to improve underwriting and the provision of insurance for autonomous vehicles. We have also said that the role of the “user-in-charge” - the person operating the controls of the automated vehicle when not in autonomous mode – must be made clear now and cannot wait until the technology further develops.

The key issue here is being very clear as to when and at what point a human user-in-charge becomes liable from both a criminal and civil perspective for the operation of the AV.

The point at which the human user-in-charge becomes liable will be heavily dependent on evidence as to how and when the autonomous systems took control, whether they should have taken control, and how and when the user tried to take back control. It is therefore imperative that motor manufacturers give court experts and insurers ready and unfettered access to event data records and sensor data from vehicles in civil and criminal litigation involving AVs.

We are urging caution when assigning criminal liability to a user-in-charge for failing to take steps to avert the risk of serious injury: Assessing whether the user in charge could have taken steps to avert a serious injury/accident would be highly fact sensitive. We believe the onus on the user in those circumstances would be far lower compared with the driver of a manual vehicle.

We believe that legislation should be amended to place the onus on manufacturers to ensure, by design, that AVs cannot start their journey until safety-critical software updates are uploaded or it is confirmed that such software is already up to date – it makes no practical real-world sense to place this onus on the user-in-charge or driver or owner – in much the same way that many vehicles will not allow the driver to set off if their seat belt has not been put in place.

It is also felt that manufacturers of AVs will need to ensure that consumers have a clear understanding of what the AVs and their automated features can and cannot do. In addition to mandatory training when users first purchase a new AV, we have also called for training and skill checks to be introduced to the core driving test for users in charge.

Key to all of this, we have said, is the need for motor manufacturers to share data, particularly when it comes to determining at what point a user-in-charge becomes liable from a criminal and civil perspective for the operation of an AV.

We are calling for the establishment of objective data standards (for accessing internal and external vehicle systems, EDR, ADS, sensors) and an objective standard for dashboards and HUDs (universal symbols and iconography etc.).

We also believe that further guidance will be required for the judiciary. With court time and judicial resource very limited (both in civil and criminal litigation), judges are likely to take an ‘aerial’ view of which road users (including users of AVs) are at fault. For the sake of expediency, judges are very likely to adopt a similar standard of driving for the artificial intelligence in an AV as of a driver in a manually-controlled vehicle. Doing so could risk miscarriages of justice / unfairness (and therefore satellite litigation). As a minimum, guidance on how and when vehicles move in and out of autonomous mode will be crucial.

Alongside this, we have once again called for a government-led public information campaign about autonomous vehicles: The views of a large cross-section of society in the UK need to be monitored. There is an education piece for the public which again must be government-led, but with the support of the various stakeholders – to avoid the very real possibility that the public will take a negative view of autonomous vehicle technology and inhibit rollout and public uptake and trust.

Research carried out on behalf of Kennedys found that only 44% of UK adults back driverless cars on UK roads.

Read other items in Personal Injury Brief - March 2019