Autonomous vehicle manufacturers and customers could assume liability suggests UK proposal

Published: February 27, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



We are at the dawn of the autonomous vehicle. While full autonomy could be more than a decade away, the first vehicles with true self-driving capabilities will be hitting showrooms soon. The debate about how to manage the technology rumbles on, while the auto insurance industry in Canada is weighing up the potential disruptive impact the cars will have on the market.

It is expected autonomous vehicles will dramatically reduce the number of traffic accidents, save lives, and ultimately reduce insurance premiums. There is a debate in the industry about whether customers will assume any liability, which could instead be passed on to the manufacturer.

A draft vehicle technology bill tabled in the UK last week suggests that vehicle manufacturers will be held liable by insurance companies. It is a bill proposal that could set a precedent. Canada is widely predicted to follow and place liability on manufacturers when it legalizes autonomous cars. Customers could be left paying a fraction of their premiums, with insurance only covering the risk of theft and damage, not collisions.

It is worth noting that the UK bill has not been debated and is far from being put into action. It recommends that insurance companies should offer a two-tier autonomous vehicle policy model. The first would be for when the car is operating on its own, which is when the manufacturer assumes liability. The second is when the human driver is on control.

Early models of driverless vehicles will rely heavily on human interaction, so this solution could be viable in the early years of autonomous vehicles.

“It is possible that the first few cases will go to court though over time we expect insurers and manufacturers will develop processes to handle subrogated claims quickly and easily,” reads the bill.