If a self-driving car crashes, who shoulders the blame?

By Oliver Smith 21 January 2016
Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun previously set up Google's self-driving car project.

With autonomous vehicles set to hit Britain's streets as early as 2018, there are still some questions to iron out.

If a driverless car hits someone or has an accident, whose fault is it?

It’s this question that both terrifies and excites drivers, car manufacturers and, increasingly, insurers and lawyers.

This week 11 of Britain’s biggest motor insurance firms, including Direct Line, Aviva and Admiral, announced the creation of the Automated Driving Insurer Group, a new body to work with the Government as it begins legislating on the use of driverless cars.

“Contrary to what some people might expect, insurers are not standing in the way of this development but actively looking to support progress and innovation,” said James Dalton, a director at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), a trade body for the industry.

“The presence of driverless cars on UK roads would be life-changing in many ways, and one of the business sectors likely to be most affected is insurance.”

The Government is currently in the process of crafting new laws to be published in summer 2017, covering driverless cars with an “aim to provide additional clarity and certainty in legislation, to provide a sound basis upon which to allocate criminal and civil liability.”

Under the current laws a driverless car crash would have to be dealt with by the courts on a costly case-by-case basis, the hope is that the Government will bring in laws that define who is at fault should a crash occur.

But while driverless cars have hit headlines for all the wrong reasons at times, the reality is they are far safer than human drivers.

Read more: Driverless cars are safe, but humans keep crashing

The ABI says 94% of car accidents are the result of human error, when our cars become more autonomous this has the potential to strip a huge amount of risk and danger from driving.

With driverless cars already being tested on UK streets and the Government having pledged new legislation to cover them, self-driving cars will be here soon.