You probably heard of the accident that happened in Arizona last year, when Uber’s driverless car hit a pedestrian who later died in hospital. Where are we at with driverless cars in Australia, and what does the future hold?
You might think that it’s just a few tech companies who “play” in this space with their futuristic cars, but there is actually a lot more going on behind the scenes. And the changes will affect all of us.
In the next 3 years, there will be areas within Singapore with driverless buses and shuttles for off peak and on demand commuting. And just like in many other countries, significant work is currently underway across Australia to create the regulatory and technical environment for when driverless cars are commercially deployed.
Different levels of automation
Most modern cars offer some driverless functions already. For example, they have Park Assist or cruise control. The next step will be that the car’s software will drive the car most of the time, with the “human driver” only monitoring what is happening. Eventually, the system will do everything and a human being is merely a passenger. Finally, these cars will communicate with each other and with the traffic infrastructure. This means they will see a hazard before they get even close to it.
OK, but who goes to jail?
The obvious question is, who goes to jail if a driverless car hits someone? The owner? An unlucky software developer? The CEO of the car company?
The underlying issue is that current traffic laws assume that (1) there is a driver and (2) that the driver is a human being. In addition, the law states that the driver must have proper control of the vehicle (meaning you can’t be distracted while driving). If someone gets injured, the negligent driver will be held responsible.
The legal definition of “driver” will need to be expanded to include the software system which drives the car. But who will be held liable if the software system causes damage? It will most likely be the company which stands behind the system. Whether it’s the car manufacturer or some other company remains to be seen.
Another layer of difficulty is that before we achieve full automation, there will be a stage where the software is in charge in respect of some driving tasks and the human driver will be responsible for others. This will raise tricky questions in terms of whether the driver or the software was in control at any given time.
Insurance will change
Many aspects of our life will be affected, but one industry in particular which is likely to see change is insurance. Currently, insurance premiums are based, to a large degree, on the risk posed by the driver. But driverless cars offer a significant reduction in accidents. So CTP premiums, as well as comprehensive insurance should change.
By the way, there is another industry which might see an impact: personal injury lawyers. After all, less accidents means less claims…
What are your thoughts?
I’d be interested in your feedback about driverless cars. Are they a good thing or a bad thing? What are your biggest concerns? For example, wouldn’t you be worried about privacy? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org