Self-Driving Cars are Here

Did you know that as of January 2019, driverless cars are allowed on Ontario roads?  At that time, Ontario’s transportation minister announced that participants in the automated vehicle pilot program could begin to test driverless cars on public roadways as long as certain conditions were met, including having a passenger aboard the vehicle or a remote operator monitoring the vehicle and ready to intervene.

As technology continues to evolve and with companies such as Tesla and Uber continuing to experiment with automation, it is inevitable that driverless vehicles will eventually become accessible to the general consumer in the not so distant future. Ridesharing companies have already announced plans to launch self-driving robotaxis in the near future.

Are we ready for this?

Vehicles with the ability to navigate highways, interpret roadway markings, and obey street signs entirely on their own are no longer the stuff of fiction. However, with these technologies come new liability concerns.

Liability Issues in Driverless Vehicle Accidents

The International Society of Automotive Engineers has established a six-level classification scheme for autonomous vehicles ranging from Level 0 (No Automation) to Level 5 (Full Automation). Ontario is the first province in Canada to allow all levels of automated vehicles on its public roadways.

In motor vehicle injury cases, liability normally rests with drivers who have negligently operated vehicles or owners who have failed to keep their vehicles in good working condition. In emerging cases featuring driverless vehicles, a larger focus will be on the manufacturers of the driverless technology.

If an accident occurs due to improper functioning of a driverless vehicle, the manufacturer of the vehicle or the driverless technology may be liable for any resultant injuries rather than an owner or operator. And if it’s a programming error, the developer may be liable. The owner could also be liable if the issue arose from poor maintenance or a manual override. Needless to say, this is going to be very complicated and will require innovative arguments.  Guidance from lawmakers will certainly be necessary but it remains to be seen whether we will receive that guidance or litigation will unravel this conundrum.