With the contribution of the LIFE programme of the European Union - LIFE17 ENV/GR/000215

Who is liable for self-driving vehicles?

Technology already grants permission of the mass production and use of the autonomous/semi-autonomous trucks. A number of companies develop autonomous drive systems longer than decade. Some of them have even released fully operational products to the market.

For example it is a Mercedez-Benz, which has represented their system called Highway Pilot in year 2015. This system contains radar, sensors cameras and a control unit and allows rebuilding an ordinary truck to a semi-autonomous one. In the manual mode the system observes continuously the situation and can overtook the control of the truck in certain situations – when the driver don´t act as expected (don’t stop before obstacle on the road, for example). In the automatic mode the system can ask the driver to take control if visibility (a fog,…) situation don´t allow to “see” good enough the road markings, or if the markings are not present at all. This system is still on testing phase, but has been already tested in real highway traffic.

Of course, not only all big players, but also a manufacturers like Tesla and Otto, involved in the truck industry are making their research of autonomous drive systems, some of them designed especially for the truck’s needs.

If the usage of autonomous trucks will come to be mass applied it will lead to loss of around 1.8 million truck driving jobs only in US with industry saves of approximately 300 billion USD.

Many of the actual drivers and people involved in this industry (even the owners of the logistic companies) are skeptical at the moment, because they think, that it is still a long way to go till autonomous vehicles (trucks especially) will appear on the roads.

The biggest obstacle for the mass implementation is not the technology itself, but the legal frame. If there is an accident with the truck and there is no driver, but the fault is on the side of the truck, who will be liable for the accident? Every year many people died in car crashes, until now it is possible to prosecute the truck driver, if the car crash was caused by him.

The probable solution is to change the liability law to include the responsibility of the producer of the truck or of the autonomous technology, or part of it, for the compensatory of the damages made.

But at the same time there is a bill in the US Congress, named AV Start Act, which will not allow injured people, riding the autonomous vehicles, to demand an indemnification from the producers of autonomous cars – producers will be not liable for autonomous cars crashes…

So, if there exists a need to include the producers to the liability for the damages made by crashes, but at the same time there is a bill with the opposite meanings (at least according to the viewpoint of the users riding the autonomous vehicles), it could lead to a long juridical process to consolidate this contradictory meanings, until the searched best solution will be find, how to implement the autonomous vehicles (especially the trucks) for an everyday use and who has the liability for damages made by this vehicles. This juridical process could be a long way to go.

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Date of last update:

22/08/2019

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