New Clause 5 - Liability of insurers

Part of Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:30, 19 Mawrth 2024

I thank the shadow Minister for his comments, because it is obviously important to make sure that there is clear liability in this area, and it is set out in the Bill.

I will just come back to the point about the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, which has been mentioned and which is the source of some of the questioning. There is a distinction between causation and fault, and in the UK people tend to claim insurance on the basis of fault, like somebody has done something wrong, and not on the basis of causation, or what actually happened.

The reason for the 2018 Act is that it was thought, quite rightly, that if somebody is in an accident with an automated vehicle, it is very difficult for them to prove whether the software and all the stuff that goes on was at fault, or that something was going wrong. Therefore, the 2018 Act created a strict liability when a vehicle is in self-driving mode. When a vehicle is not in self-driving mode and there is a human driving it, there is exactly the same liability as we have at the moment. There is no intention in any of the legislation to change that. Regarding the point that the shadow Minister makes, which was a valid one, we clearly do not want individual victims to have to try to work out whether a vehicle was in self-driving mode or not. They will claim in the normal way against the insurer of the vehicle.

If the vehicle was in self-driving mode and that was at fault, the insurer of the vehicle can claim the insurance from the authorised self-driving entity. That will be a settlement between the insurance companies; it will not affect the victim’s ability to claim. The system is designed in such a way as to make sure that the victim gets any payment due to them as quickly as possible.

That is also why we have the sharing of information, which we discussed earlier, because it is really important for the various insurance companies to know whether, at the time of the accident, the vehicle was in self-driving mode or not, in order to ascertain whether the liability should be with the ASDE or with the driver. If they do not know what mode the vehicle was in, they cannot do that.

If this new clause were added to the Bill, we would have the unusual situation whereby a car with a self-driving function that might never be used is subject to strict liability insurance claims and a car that does not have a self-driving function is subject to the normal liabilities that we have at the moment. We would have the bizarre situation that a pedestrian could be better off if they were in an accident with a car with a self-driving function that is never used than if they were in an accident with a conventionally driven car. It would be very difficult to explain that sort of discrepancy and give any rational justification for it. Again, this is one of those things where we agree with the ambition, but we think that it is already covered.