Semi-autonomous vehicles will muddy liability waters: IBC Regulatory Affairs Symposium

Distinguishing product liability from human liability will pose a challenge

As semi-autonomous vehicles take to the streets, determining who is at fault for collisions will become increasingly difficult, says Robert Love, senior partner with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP’s tort liability practice.

“The advent of automated vehicles is going to have a dramatic impact on the litigation landscape,” Love said, speaking the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s 17th annual Regulatory Affairs Symposium in Toronto.

Related: Ontario could be a leader in autonomous vehicles: JLT Canada Public Sector Summit

He noted that fully autonomous vehicles—cars with an autonomous driving level of 5—will be less problematic, but semi-autonomous vehicles will pose more difficult questions. Cars with an autonomous driving level of 3, for instance, may require a human driver to take control, blurring the lines of who’s at fault when something goes wrong.

“You’ll have situations where the vehicle does ask the driver to assume control,” Love said. “How quickly is the driver going to be able to respond to that prompt? How urgent will it be? Will they actually be able to reengage themselves with the environment sufficiently in order to avoid whatever problem is on the road?”

Love also said that litigation cases involving autonomous vehicles could have multiple defendants, from drivers to auto manufacturers, software developers and even municipalities with infrastructure designed to communicate with driverless cars.

“The problem is not going to be at the end, when every [autonomous] vehicle is level 4 or level 5,” he said. “The problem is going to be the transition time, and that’s going to be 10 or 20 years.”

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