Britain says automakers, not owners, will be liable for self-driving crashes

Britain says automakers, not owners, will be liable for self-driving crashes

Automotive News Europe — 2023-11-07

Automotive Industry

Automakers rather than the owners of self-driving cars will be legally liable for any crashes in the UK under the British government's planned framework for developing autonomous vehicles.

King Charles said the government would introduce an Automated Vehicles Bill as he set out the government's legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session.

The legislation will create powers to fine companies and give people immunity from prosecution if they are in a self-driving vehicle. Self-driving car companies could face criminal action in the UK if their vehicles fail to meet safety standards in the most serious cases.

The bill will also prohibit misleading marketing, meaning only vehicles that meet the safety threshold can be marketed as self-driving.

It's unclear whether this will have any ramifications for Tesla, which markets "full self-driving capability" as a £6,800 ($8,350) add-on in the UK that, by its own admission, "does not make the vehicle autonomous."

The proposed law was welcomed by insurers and AV startups.

Tara Foley, head of UK and Ireland operations for global insurer AXA, said this would add "multiple benefits for the UK economy, road safety and green jobs."

"For insurers, it also provides crucial clarity for establishing liability for self driving," she added.

Companies had said Britain could lose out on investments and startups would carry out testing elsewhere unless promised laws regulating AV technology were passed before the next general election, expected next year.

"The new primary legislation for self-driving vehicles gives us the confidence to continue investing in R&D and growing our talent base here in the UK," said Alex Kendall, CEO of AV startup Wayve, which has raised around $260 m from investors, including Microsoft.

The government said the bill would protect users and promote safety in the AV industry. "While the vehicle is driving itself, a company rather than an individual will be responsible for the way it drives," the government said.

Self-driving industry experts have said national regulatory frameworks and establishing legal liability are crucial to winning public acceptance of autonomous vehicles and for insurers to provide coverage.

The bill will establish processes to investigate incidents and improve the safety framework, and will also set the threshold for what is classified as a self-driving car.

In the US where states have led the way in testing self-driving cars, California regulators last month ordered General Motors' driverless car unit Cruise to remove its vehicles from state roads, saying it had "misrepresented" the technology's safety.

Paul Newman, founder of Oxford-based AV software firm Oxa, which has raised about $225 m from investors, said the UK's proposed framework would avoid a repeat of Cruise's situation in Britain because it clearly delineates responsibilities.

"There is an inevitability to this technology," he said. "This a fantastic opportunity to get out in front and create frameworks to build public trust."