Self-driving cars and personal injury claims

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Self-driving (autonomous) cars are one of the most significant and talked about examples of automated technology in recent years. Whilst many people believe driverless cars could take the stress out of driving, others are cautious about relying on technology to carry out an activity that requires a high level of concentration and skill, and often the need to react in a specific set of circumstances.

With most collisions on UK roads being down to human error, does removing the human element make our roads safer, or is it a recipe for more accidents? In this blog, we look at the risks of self-driving cars and how this technology might affect personal injury claims.

Are autonomous cars legal in the UK?

Driverless cars are not yet legal in the UK; however, it is reported that they could be on our roads by 2026.

There are five levels of autonomous driving and most cars on the road today will have some element of automation. The levels are:

0 – no automation: the driver is in full control of the vehicle without any automated assistance.

1 – driver assistance: some assistive technology is present, such as cruise control or parking sensors. This can be found in a large proportion of vehicles on UK roads.

2 – partly or semi-automated: this requires the driver to remain in control of the vehicle but technology can take over steering using parking assist, adaptive cruise control and lane assist. This is already in the majority of new cars on UK roads.

3 – highly automated: this is not yet available on UK roads but is being tested. Highly automated cars will allow drivers to turn their attention away from driving in certain conditions but with the expectation that they can regain full control instantly if necessary.

4 – fully automated driving: a driver must be present but the car can fully control itself. The driver does not need to pay full attention (they can even sleep at the wheel) but will be able to request control.

5 – full automation (driverless): the vehicle can self-drive without a human being at the wheel.

Autonomous features

Self-driving vehicles might not be on the road yet, but there are already vehicles on the roads which have autonomous features (partly or semi-automated vehicles). These are designed to make driving safer and include:

  • Parking sensors
  • Parking assist
  • Emergency brake assist
  • Road sign and speed limit recognition
  • Hill start assist
  • Lane assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Self-parking.

While these features are intended to improve vehicle safety, collisions can happen as a result of drivers relying on this technology to be fail-safe.

What are the dangers of self-driving cars?

Cars with self-driving or autonomous features still pose a threat to fellow road users and pedestrians, despite them being intended to reduce the risk of accidents due to human error.

Dangers of autonomous driving features include:

  • Technical defects: computer or system defects could cause features to malfunction, e.g. parking sensors failing to alert a driver when they are close to another car or pedestrian, or lane assist preventing a driver from making an emergency manoeuvre to avoid something on the road.
  • Hacking: self-driving vehicles rely on technology to keep autonomous features running effectively. If the system is hacked and the features fail, the risk of a collision is higher.
  • Risk of fire from lithium batteries often used in electric or hybrid vehicles with autonomous features.
  • Lack of driver attention because they have a false sense of security that the car’s safety features will ‘kick in’ if a situation arises.

Who is at fault for an accident involving a self-driving car?

If an incident involving a self-driving vehicle happens, it is not always clear-cut as to who is liable.

In the event of an incident with an autonomous car, our personal injury solicitors will look at the circumstances and consider if there are any elements of contributory negligence. This could be that parking sensors failed but the driver was relying on them in their entirety rather than using them as a support function.

In some cases, it is not necessarily the driver at fault as there was a manufacturing defect with the car and that caused the collision to happen. Our Personal Injury team will advise you on this as part of the claim.

Contact our road traffic accident solicitors

If you have been involved in an accident involving a self-driving car, our road accident solicitors may be able to help you claim compensation. Call our team on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form.


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