Johnston Withers

Self-Driving Cars and Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries.

Published on Thursday 14 March, 2019 by Tim Downie

As specialist motor vehicle injury claims lawyers we often wonder how the law will deal with technological advancements, and especially the growth of artificial intelligence.

In many ways, technology has the potential to improve road safety – from traffic lights and cruise control to, more recently, reverse cameras and lane departure warnings.

However, often the law does not keep up with technology, and some technological developments may complicate our use of roads and how our laws surrounding road use apply. These sorts of developments may have an impact on future motor vehicle injury claims.

One example of this complicated interaction between the law and new technology is the recent case of a pedestrian in the US being killed when she was struck by a self-driving Uber.

White modern toyota car on the road driving towards the camera.  Its a grey and bleak winters day.

In Australia, when a pedestrian is struck by a car and sustains injuries, a motor vehicle accident compensation claim would be brought against the insurer of the person driving the car. The pedestrian who sustained the injuries would be compensated to the extent that the driver of the car was at fault and liable for causing their injuries.

But what happens if the car is self-driving?

When there is no human driver of a car, it is less clear who is liable for causing an injured road user’s injuries.

In the case in the US, the prosecutors decided that Uber would not be held liable for the pedestrian’s death. They are, however, investigating what the ‘back-up driver’, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car at the time of the accident, ‘would or should have seen’.

As self-driving cars become more common in Australia, our laws relating to motor vehicle accidents will have to adapt. For the purposes of compensation, at least, someone must be held liable. Who that will be is not yet clear. Should it be the coder, manufacturer, or supplier of the artificial intelligence technology? Should it be the owner of the vehicle, or the ‘back-up driver’? What if there is no ‘back-up driver’?

What is clear is that technology will continue to advance and the future will bring many challenges for personal injury law.

We're here to help!

If you’ve been in a motor vehicle accident we’re here to help guide you through the accident claims process. We have permanent offices in Adelaide, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Murray Bridge and Clare. We also service Roxby Downs on a regular basis.

Johnston Withers Lawyers have been operating in South Australia since 1946 and have a proud history of ensuring everyone has fair access to the power of the law. That’s why we offer a free initial consultation for all motor vehicle accident claims and a no win, no fee commitment.

If you or a family member have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and would like to discuss an accident claim call Tim Downie on 8231 1110 or get in touch online.

Tim Downie Johnston Withers Lawyers


Tim Downie

Practice leader: Personal injury

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