Drivers make cars dangerous, some argue. Remove the driver, reduce the likelihood of a car accident.
The statistic is staggering - 1.2 million killed a year in road accidents worldwide. The benefits of the driverless (and allegedly near crash less) car appear to be aplenty. Senior citizens no longer have to worry about not being 'certified fit to drive'; 'good drivers' no longer need to be penalised by paying more for insurance premiums due to 'bad drivers'; there will be no more drink driving/text driving; no more road blocks; no more strikes by PRC bus drivers of SMRT; no more instalments of Fast and Furious.
As an insurance lawyer, I cannot help but wonder what the legal ramifications would be.
The driver and Duty of Care
Today, every driver has a 'duty of care' towards other users of the road, including our own passengers. Where the Driver breached his duty of care towards the Victim, causing injury, physically or psychologically, and subsequent losses such as loss of income etc, the Victim may then sue the Driver for damages. Third party insurance provides coverage to the Driver in such a scenario. In Singapore, third party insurance is compulsory for all vehicle owners and their authorised drivers. This helps prevent a situation where the Victim is unable to claim for adequate compensation due to the bankruptcy or inability of the Driver to make payment. It is the liability ensuing this potential breach of duty of care that is the 'insurable interest'.
In the case of the driver-less vehicle, who will be liable in the event of an accident? Who owes the Victim a duty of care if an accident is a result of a glitch in the vehicle and not due to the Driver?
The manufacturers, the distributors and suppliers of supporting technology may now possess the insurable interests, perhaps more so than the vehicle owners. For the manufacturers and/or distributors/importers to shroud themselves in insurance polices will only lead to increased costs that will trickle down eventually to the consumers, i.e. the vehicle owners.
It is also highly cost ineffective for there are periods when the vehicles are not actively used, such as when they are being exported or are unsold. The period of insurance coverage is also a problem if the manufacturers are expected to cough out insurance premiums as the shelf life of each car differs.
Whilst it is not possible to 'contract out' of tortious liability on the part of the manufacturers/distributors, it may be possible, with legislative intervention, for vehicle owners to bear the costs of insurance premiums directly, as they do now, even if the accidents are caused by glitches in the vehicles. Such vehicle-based policies taken out by owners may also cover events when the vehicles are in "drivers mode". Perhaps this is still the most commonsensical way forward and may also pave the way for a fault-less motor compensation system in Singapore.
Ultimately, the question is - will we dare put our lives in the hands of artificial intelligence?
Interesting times indeed.