UK autonomous vehicles liability model can light the way for Canada

Published: October 21, 2018

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Canadian insurance companies are part of a global debate on how to handle liability situations surrounding autonomous vehicles. One insurance lawyer believes the United Kingdom is developing a model that could standout as appealing to Canada.

In the UK, the government is currently working through a bill that would change traffic laws in the country. Under proposed laws, insurance policies will be required to name autonomous vehichles to ensure liability is properly proportioned. If passed, the bill would demand knowledge of if a vehicle is in autonomous mode or not at the time of a collision.

If the vehicle is insured, liability for the damages caused by the car would pass to the insurance company. In current Canadian law, such as in Ontario, the driver is liable at all times, whether the vehicle is autonomous or not.

“There’s no exceptions to that,” confirmed Jonathan Grnak, an insurance lawyer with Danson Recht LLP, in an interview with Canadian Underwriter. “There’s no contributory negligence to the car, that’s just the base facts. If you’re drunk and you’re driving the car and you get into the accident regardless of what the car does automatically, you’re still going to be liable for it.”

Liability Questions

Insurers are wrestling with liability as driverless cars slowly become available. Once full autonomy is achieved, where the driver becomes merely an occupant, it is expected vehicle manufacturers will assume liability. Until then, the decades of semi-autonomy where drivers have some input (even if that input decreases over time) leads to a question of who is to assume liability.

Grnak believes turning to a UK-style model as it simplifies the question of liability. “If the vehicle is insured and it’s driving by itself, the insurance company is liable for the accident,” he explained. “If the vehicle is not driving automatically, then the owner of the vehicle is liable for the damages.”