THE IMPLICATIONS OF AUTONOMOUS DRIVING VEHICLES ON CAR ACCIDENT CLAIMS
The age of technology is here, and with it, self-driving vehicles.
Technologically advanced vehicles, such as Tesla, have driver-assist features available to the driver. These features are supposed to make drivers safer, as it reduces the human error aspect involved in driving, as the vehicle can maintain a specified speed and distance from other drivers on the road. The driver who has engaged driver-assist mode can take over if something unexpected were to occur.
Human-driven motor vehicles result in approximately 2,000 fatalities and more than $16,000 injuries annually, according to Transport Canada in 2016. These accidents are caused primarily by human error. Automated vehicles could change these statistics for the better, as automate vehicles could increase safety on the roads.
However, vehicles that operate completely autonomously and do not have any driver sitting behind the wheel, are emerging. Autonomous vehicles are not yet available in Canada, but they are being tested more and more in the streets of San Francisco. Autonomous vehicles will reshape our conception of transportation, which begs the question: how will autonomous vehicles affect motor vehicle claims? Can autonomous vehicles bear any liability in a motor vehicle accident, similar to human drivers, or do our laws and regulations need to evolve?
INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR AUTOMATED VEHICLES
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (“IBC”) published their study into the topic, “Auto Insurance for Automated Vehicles: Preparing for the Future of Mobility”.
The IBC starts by explaining the primary issue:
“Currently, auto insurance policies prescribed in provincial laws are built on the notion that human error is the primary cause of motor vehicle collisions. But, as humans cede control of driving to automated technology, collisions will be caused increasingly by product malfunction. This shift in responsibility for collisions form humans to automated technology means many injured people will have to proceed through product liability litigation to get compensated.”
Changes are needed to Canada’s auto insurance policies to ensure that Canadians involved in a motor vehicle accident with an autonomous vehicle are not dragged through a long and complicated product liability litigation. The IBC recommends a framework to accommodate this emerging technology and their users, consisting of two components:
- A single insurance policy covering both driver negligence and the automated technology.
- A data-sharing arrangement with vehicle manufacturers, vehicle owners and/or insurers.
The idea behind the single insurance policy would mean that any injured party can make a claim against the automated vehicle’s insurer, even if no one was driving the vehicle. This would negate the need for an injured party to have to sue the manufacturer for any technological defects in the automated vehicle that caused the collision. However, an injured person could still make a claim against the vehicle manufacturer or technology provider in a product liability case, which might be the only answer for BC residents living in a no-fault system.
Data sharing is fairly self-explanatory. Automated vehicles would have to share available data to vehicle owners or insurers involved in a collision to determine the cause of the collision, including whether a driver was physically operating the vehicle or had the vehicle switched to an automated driving mode.
While automated vehicles can bring about lengthier and more expensive claims, the data sharing aspect could prove to be invaluable to insurers. Real-time data and footage of a collision could help determine liability for an accident more quickly and detect fraud more easily. Data-sharing could help cut through the “he said, she said” argument when determining who is at fault.
INSURANCE MODELS FOR AUTOMATED VEHICLES
British Columbians may be asking themselves how they will be affected by automated vehicles, give the no fault scheme in place. The IBC’s study came up with three potential approaches for addressing the shift in responsibility:
- Maintain the status quo.
- Establish full no-fault insurance.
- Cover both driver negligence and the automated technology under a single insurance policy.
Given that accidents involving fully automated vehicles would come down to a manufacturer’s issue, which has already been established to be a longer and more complicated legal battle. No fault may seem more attractive as injured parties receive treatment and income replacement from their insurer and would not have to pursue a lengthy product liability claim.
Essentially, it does not seem that the insurance policies in place in BC would change at all. British Columbians would potentially have the option to sue the vehicle manufacturer if they are harmed by an automated vehicle.
The IBC warns that Canada’s mixed no-fault and tort auto insurance schemes cannot coexist with automated vehicles. The IBC believes the best approach would be for all provinces in Canada to adopt the no-fault approach to ensure a uniform approach to the emerging technology. This would be a major change to public policy, and not a decision that would be made lightly across the country. The IBC’s complete study can be found here.
The conversation surrounding automated vehicles is still quite fresh. Autonomous vehicle pilot projects have taken place across Canada since 2018, with an autonomous shuttle pilot project having taken place in Vancouver already. Few Canadians have experienced autonomous driving, leading to fear surrounding the technology. However, autonomous vehicles and public transport have the ability to transform the future of transportation and reduce emissions related to motor vehicles.
It is important to stay up to date on the discussion surrounding insurance and the impact on motor vehicle claims. Contact our personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.