Horwich Farrelly, the UK’s leading legal advisers to the insurance and commercial sectors, responds to the DfT announcement on autonomous vehicles out yesterday. Daniel West, Partner and Head of Product Liability at Horwich Farrelly, said:
“In light of the DfT announcement today, it is important to look closely at the types of activities which the “user-in-charge” should be allowed to do while their autonomous vehicle is driving itself. The issue was considered by the Law Commission (in its report published on 26 January 2022). For a vehicle to be considered self-driving, the Law Commission recommends that users should not be required to monitor the driving environment but should be allowed to engage in some (but not all) other activities – so long as they are able to take back control in response to a ‘transmission demand’.
TRY NOT TO NOD OFF WATCHING EMMERDALE
“The types of activities which will be permitted will depend on considerations such as the length of time required for a user to regain situational awareness and the level of immersion in the other activity. For example, the report recommends a cautious approach regarding sleeping and the use of phones. However, the use of on board screens for things like checking email or even watching TV and films is seen as less intrusive because the screen will cut out at the start of a transition demand.
“For motor insurers, the transition demand period and the ability of the user to respond to that will be an important consideration. A failure to respond appropriately, or at all, can mean the user becomes culpable for any resulting collision. Therefore, the types of activities that a user is permitted to undertake will have a significant impact on the risk that insurers assign to an automated driving system.
“It seems likely the law will adapt as the technology improves and as we learn more about the ability of users to disengage from different types of activities. It is a hot topic for, amongst others, insurers and the legal profession.”