Autonomous vehicles may be delayed by liability confusion

Published: September 27, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is predicted to cause several disruptions, especially to the auto insurance industry. At the RIMS Canada Conference on Monday, a speaker suggested driverless vehicle technology development and adoption could be hampered by the need to reassess liability.

Jim Kidd, project manager at the City of Toronto’s insurance and risk management section, was a participant during a session titled Autonomous Vehicles and the Connected City at the conference, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Discussion has started on strict liability, but Kidd says “a more realistic scenario” initially will be semi-autonomous vehicle where drivers have control before, Kidd told conference attendees.

“Human error enters the picture and liability becomes more complicated,” he said. “There’s so many combinations and permeations of autonomousness, if that’s a word.” In addition to the different levels of automation – no automation, driver assistance, partial automation, conditional automation, high automation and full automation (from the Society of Engineers International) – “there’s connected, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure,” Kidd added.

“Where will liability go?” he asked. “There’s so many parties to attribute liability to: technology failure, product liability. Was it the software? Was it the hardware? Did the technology fail to prevent a collision, did the operator fail to install software updates in a timely manner? Perhaps the uncertainty about how liability may be assessed may slow the introduction of AV technology.”

Autonomous vehicle technology is predicted to trandform road safety by drastically reducing road accidents and deaths. However, insurance companies will be impacted as liability passes onto manufacturers.

While not all manufacturers are on board with this concept, many have. “You’re not going to have motor vehicle liability concerns as much as you’re going to have product liability concerns. As an example”, he said that with Audi’s deployment in 2018 of its A7 and A9 models, “they’ve already agreed that they are going to accept liability for any accident that people get in while in its autonomous mode. They’ve already accepted that they are going to be held to new kinds of fault.”