Government proposals for driverless cars could create a worrying principle in the law of negligence, a high-profile motoring solicitor has warned.
Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman, of Manchester firm Freeman & Co, raised concerns over a consultation document published by the government's Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles this week. The document states that there are certain areas ‘where we will need to consider creating new rights of action directly against an insurer when there would not necessarily be a claim in negligence against the driver who purchased that insurance policy’.
The proposal is designed to protect third parties and enable product liability insurance proposals to function properly, the document states.
For example, if an accident occurs as a result of a vehicle defect, the government proposes that the driver and injured third parties be given the right to pursue a claim directly against the driver’s insurer, even though the manufacturer rather than the driver was at fault.
Injured third parties would also be given a direct right of action against the insurer where an accident results from a vehicle being hacked.
Freeman said the proposals created a new principle in the law of negligence ‘where you can be blamed when you’re not at fault’.
He added: ‘For you to be liable you have to establish negligence. I do not understand how insurers can be negligent. I don’t understand the premise of the argument.’
The proposals would also lead to a ‘massive hike’ in insurance premiums, Freeman predicted.
But he said the government's decision to continue with a fault-based approach combined with existing product liability law, rather than create a new strict liability regime, made sense.
The government paper states that not all manufacturers have offered to self-insure their vehicles while they operate in an automated mode.
Highlighting the risk of customer confusion of how claims will be handled, the department says there is sufficient justification to change the insurance system before the first wave of automated vehicles come on the market.
According to the consultation paper, vehicles that can be parked within line of sight by remote control or pilot themselves with human oversight on high-speed roads will be available for sale in the next four years.