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Who is responsible if you have an accident in a self-driving car

How the law can develop to deal with new technologies

Relevant across multiple law types

The law often needs to evolve to meet the needs of a changing society and the possible introduction of self-driving vehicles on our roads is a good example of this.

The Law Commission is a body set up to advise Government on changes needed in the law and it has recently published a report on self-driving vehicles.

That report recommends that users of self-driving vehicles should not be prosecuted for traffic offences related to the driving task such as running a red light or speeding, because they are not actually driving the car. Instead, it should be the company behind the self-driving system who has legal liability.

However, users would still be responsible for things like making sure that the car was insured, and people are wearing seatbelts.

The Law Commission report draws a clear distinction between driver assist features such as cruise control and genuine fully self-driving vehicles. Users who use driver assist features would still be legally liable for use of the vehicle and could, for example, be held responsible for accidents. Car makers need to be very clear about what are driver assist features and what is a fully self-driving vehicle.

The Law Commission only makes recommendations which may or may not be adopted by parliament and turned into law. So, this is not law at the moment but it’s a good example of how the law can develop to deal with new technologies.

If you have been prosecuted for a traffic offence you may wish to consult a solicitor.

You can search for a solicitor who specialises in traffic offences for free on our website, and without having to provide your personal data. Our site has lots of guidance on how to find the right lawyer for you and how to pay for their services, or where to access free legal advice. Sometimes you may not have to find the money yourself and our site guidance explains why, read our guidance on using legal expense insurance to pay your legal fees.