Look – no hands! – February 2017

Shelyna Mariscal

For a personal injury lawyer a conversation at the dinner table regarding a subject related to work is not an unusual occurrence. So, when I had cause to explain to my nine year old daughter the concept of a “driverless car” her response was, “that’s great Mummy – there will be no more accidents”. However, we all know from, perhaps bitter, experience that things very rarely go according to plan.

On this subject, it was somewhat reassuring to read the recent response from the Department for Transport to the consultation on driverless cars, now commonly referred to as Automated Vehicle Technology (AVT) and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). The literature states that it will be compulsory to have insurance to protect victims where the “car causes an accident when in automated mode”.

The Department for Transport state in relation to AVT and ADAS: “The victim will have a direct right against the motor insurer and the insurer in turn will have a right of recovery against the responsible party to the extent there is a liability under existing laws, including product liability law.” It seems an ironic time to be talking about the “rights of victims” when the Government is proposing a reduction in the amount of compensation a victim can claim for his/her injuries. Not to mention the pressure being exerted on the Government by the insurance industry to lower the new discount rate and their apparent agreement to this.

This raises the query as to whether driverless car claims will be included in the proposed reforms or whether such a claim might be able to proceed or have a greater chance of succeeding as a product liability claim.

There is no doubt that the prospect of driverless cars will potentially open up a whole new world to those who are presently unable to drive for whatever reason. It also opens up a whole plethora of further questions which are no doubt being considered as part of the current process:

  • Will there be a need to learn/know how to Look - no hands! - February 2017drive a vehicle in the future?
  • Will capacity be required to use a driverless car?
  • Who would you issue against if you do take legal proceedings?
  • What affect will all these extra cars on the road have on our environment?

And the all important…

  • Will vehicle insurance premiums reduce on the basis of there being fewer accidents?

Going back to the conversation with my daughter, I have this vision in my head of a cartoon (The Jetsons) which I used to watch when I was a similar age to her. People were being transported in ‘cars’ that flew seemingly without the need for a driver. I’m not so sure about the flying just yet, but I do think that the time when I can write a blog whilst “driving” my car is not too far into the future.

Shelyna is MASS Regional Co-ordinator for East Anglia and Partner, Personal Injury, at Hansells in Norwich