The United Kingdom may hold autonomous vehicles accountable for traffic accidents and not consider their "drivers" liable. This possibility was raised by the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (VTAB), a proposal of a new law that was officially introduced on Wednesday. The British government is hoping that the aforementioned provision will facilitate the adoption of self-driving technologies in the European country. Seeing how VTAB was just recently introduced as a draft, the bill is likely to change in the coming months as it's scrutinized by the parliament and there's no guarantee that the provision about occupants of self-driving cars not being accountable for accidents will actually be approved and passed into law. Regardless, the future of VTAB will likely be known later this year after the Palace of Westminster is done inspecting it.
The proposal says that car insurance firms would be required to sell two types of insurance for autonomous vehicles, one that's designed for accidents in which a human driver was operating a vehicle, and another one for cases in which a car was operating on its own. Reading between the lines suggests that the British government is looking to ensure victims can always be awarded compensation by insurance companies regardless of the cause of the accident. Once an insurance company pays out compensation, it would be able to cover its expenses through common law and product liability contracts, both of which would require automakers to recoup the insurance firm's expenses, VTAB suggests. Two exemptions mentioned by the current draft involve cases in which an owner of a self-driving vehicle wouldn't download and install a software update in accordance with their insurance policy, as well as scenarios in which they would modify the software of their vehicle on their own. Provided an insurance company can prove either case, it wouldn't be required to award compensation.
Overall, the current proposal seems well-rounded in terms of technical details but it does have one seemingly apparent issue – the definition of self-driving vehicles. As things stand right now, there is no definition of what actually entails an autonomous vehicle which is something that the UK parliament will likely work on in the coming months as it scrutinizes VTAB.