Who’s Liable When Autonomous Cars Collide With Each Other?

It seems that fully-autonomous cars will need to do a lot more than just read the road if insurers can hope to determine who was in control of the vehicle during a crash.

According to Thatcham Research, determining where liability rests in case of an accident will be one of the key challenges for future autonomous vehicles.

In other words, without knowing who was in control of the vehicle at the time of the incident (the driver or the car) it would be very difficult to settle insurance claims fairly.

“Future legislation needs to protect the consumer so that in the event of an accident, responsibility and who pays can be quickly determined,” said Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research. “Was it driver error or a failure of the automated driving system? This can only happen if their insurer has access to key data about the crash. We would like to see car manufacturers and legislators working together with the insurance industry to develop a framework to make this happen.”

Currently, British insurers are lobbying for a standard set of data agreed at an international level, data which would include how the vehicle was operating at the time of the crash – autonomously or otherwise.

“It’s in everyone’s interests to be able to establish the facts quickly and the proposals for standardized data being put forward by UK insurers would achieve this,” added Shaw.

Aside from establishing liability, this information could also be used for emergency services’ investigations, making insurance claims more efficient and also to help vehicle manufacturers improve their products.

By having the 30 seconds before and 15 seconds after a crash recorded, insurers could have access to a GPS record of the time and location of the incident, confirmation of running mode, whether the car was parked or in motion, when the driver last interacted with the system if in autonomous mode, any sort of driver input on braking or steering and of course whether the driver’s seat was actually occupied and the seatbelt fastened.


  • xDRAN0x

    AI owner.

  • JudeK

    Interesting. I guess there’d be a grey area where the driver should have been in control of the car, too? i.e. you can’t just take your hands off the wheel before a crash and say, “It was the car’s fault.” 😛

  • Gerald Michael

    It really doesn’t matter, because the end user will the one who ultimately pays for it.

  • getoffme

    The manufacturer and insurance company for pushing these stupid things. Rightfully so.

  • Jerry Hightower

    I don’t want something that controls me. I want to be in control at all times.

  • gary4205

    Or, we can just ban these f’ing things before they ever hit the road!


  • Bash

    in fact the manufacturer should pay… that’s the only way for them to make a better product….

  • Ameer Hassan Tajaldeen

    insured owner

  • benT

    Volvo has said they are responsible for accidents that occur when their cars are driven in an autonomous mode, for example.

    • Knotmyrealname

      If the car/technology is at fault.

  • Knotmyrealname

    Seems simple enough to me. The owner of the car has to pay for it’s insurance as per today.
    Then, if the owner of the car is at the wheel, is not paying attention and could have intervened to avoid an accident, then the driver is to blame. If the car has a fully autonomous mode and the driver (is allowed by the manufacturer to do so, and) sits in the back seat (but who the **** would do that), and the technology fails and causes a collision, then the manufacturer should cover the cost. The good thing is that the technology required to enable an autonomous vehicle to drive on the road means that everything around the vehicle is recorded. Therefore it will be easily settled who did what, and who is to blame.
    You’ll probably find that in future, it’ll be easier to insure an autonomous car than a manually operated car. Even when it’s not in autonomous mode, it’ll be recording everything.

  • Lian Cui

    Hi, thank you for the article and interesting picture! Can I use the picture for my dissertation presentation slides? Thanks!

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