Autonomous vehicles – who will be liable for accidents?


  • Roger Kemp



In the last five years, there has been increasing enthusiasm for autonomous (i.e. self-driving, or driving by software) vehicles. There are many benefits claimed for them: lower energy demand, better use of infrastructure, fewer accidents and mobility for all, including those who, for reasons of age or infirmity, are unable to drive. A change from road transport based on vehicles under the control of identifiable on-board drivers to a situation where vehicles may be controlled by computer systems developed and managed by complex international industrial organisations is radical. This paper raises some of the issues of legal liability that might arise.

The paper does not discuss the wider political and social issues raised by the widespread introduction on autonomous vehicles. In passing, it can be noted that, for 100 years, the car has been ‘sold’ as a symbol of personal freedom; moving to a situation where every journey is managed and logged by an international corporation would be a dramatic shift. The paper also excludes issues of energy consumption, traffic congestion and effects on public transport. These are all important questions that will need to be debated before countries become irrevocably committed to AVs.

Index words: autonomous vehicles, self-drive cars, liability law, road accidents, liability for traffic accidents