Several grey areas in law accompany automated vehicles. If driverless cars become heavily reliant on receiving up to date satellite and traffic data, as well as information from other vehicles, what happens when the car is unable to obtain this data? For example, what if a roundabout is constructed overnight and the driverless car fails to download this information, and then drives over the roundabout the following day?
Who is liable – the vehicle operator, the vehicle manufacturer, the software provider, the wireless network provider? And will older vehicles struggle to keep up with software updates, in the same way that older mobile phone models slow down when updated to new software versions designed for newer phones?
Consider also a situation where a pedestrian suddenly and unexpectedly runs out into the road. If the vehicle cannot brake in time it has two options; to swerve to avoid the pedestrian or carry on driving. In scenario one, the car may swerve into oncoming traffic and injure its occupant; in scenario two the car injures or kills the pedestrian.
And what dictates what course of action should the driverless car take? Does it make a decision based on which course of action causes the least loss? Does it calculate how many people are in the car? Or does it simply shut down and issue you with a warning that you need to take over? What if the operator does not have time to take the controls, assess the situation and make a decision? Who will be at fault?
Driverless cars are not a futuristic flight of fancy, they are on the roads now and every year will become more visible as an everyday feature of the road. As a new technology, they will create new opportunities and challenges, and it remains to be seen how the insurance and legal services industries – and society as a whole – adapts.