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Who pays should an autonomous car crash?

DILEMMA STILL TO COME: If a driverless car crashed on a forest road, will anybody pay for it? Image: Thatcham Research

DILEMMA STILL TO COME: If a driverless car crashed on a forest road, will anybody pay for it? Image: Thatcham Research

LONDON, England – Cars of the future will need to collect a basis set of data so insurers can determine who was in control of the vehicle at the time – the driver or the car?

One of the key challenges for the future of automated driving will be determining where liability rests in the event of a collision with an autonomous car. A crucial part of making sure claims are settled fairly will be to understand who was in control of the vehicle at the time – the driver or the car?

Peter Shaw, chief executive at Thatcham Research, told The Corner in a media release: “Future legislation needs to protect the consumer so responsibility and who pays can be quickly determined. Was it driver error or a failure of the automated driving system?

“This can only happen if their insurer has access to key data about the crash. We would like to see car manufacturers and legislators working together with the insurance industry to develop a framework to make this happen.”


British insurers are leading efforts to have a standard set of data agreed internationally and easily accessible after a collision involving a highly automated vehicle. This, Thatcham believes, would include an indication of whether the vehicle was operating autonomously and with which technology.

Shaw added: “It’s in everyone’s interests to be able to establish the facts quickly and the proposals for standardised data being put forward by UK insurers would achieve this.”

This information would be used to:

  • Establish liability for anything that had gone wrong.
  • Inform emergency services’ investigations.
  • Ensure prompt insurance clearance.
  • Help vehicle manufacturers to improve their products.
  • If faulty technology was to blame insurers should be able to recover the costs from the manufacturer.

The information insurers want to see universally collected only concerns the autonomous systems and driver interaction – it is not proposed that any information measuring a driver’s performance should be gathered.

The data would cover a period from 30 seconds before to 15 seconds after a collision or crash as:

    • A GPS record of the time and location.
    • Confirmation about whether the vehicle was in autonomous or manual mode.
    • If in autonomous mode, whether the vehicle was parking or driving.
    • When the vehicle went autonomous.
    • When the driver last interacted with the system.
    • Any driver activity such as braking or steering.
    • Whether the driver’s seat was occupied and whether the seat belt was fastened.

The UN body responsible for vehicle regulations is preparing to impose its own data requirements on motor manufacturers from 2019. Insurers in the UK are hoping to influence the to the benefit of vehicle owners/drivers.


Huw Evans, ABI director-general, said: “Insurance is an increasingly innovative sector, constantly responding to evolving technology. We’ve created new ways for people to manage their motor insurance with their smartphone.

“Insurance enables technological advances in other sectors and we’re backing the development of automated cars 100%.

“As part of insurers’ commitment to getting automated cars on the road and dramatically improving road safety basic data must be easily available to make sure customers are looked after if something goes wrong.

“This would offer public reassurance by protecting drivers from being incorrectly blamed if something fails with their car, so helping police investigations and supporting prompt insurance payment.”

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