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Rise of the Automated Vehicle in Personal Injuries

According to a study done by the Stanford University Centre for Internet and Society, 90% of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Recently, permission was granted in Victoria for testing to commence with automated vehicles on high speed rural roads, with the Minister for Transport announcing that further testing may follow.

As all signs seem to suggest that automated vehicles will become common use in the near future, we start to question who will be at fault if an accident occurs resulting in personal injuries.

As suggested, 90% of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error, but the remaining 10% might be caused by vehicle design faults, programming errors or some form of interaction between the artificial intelligence and another human driver.

If you saw Will Smith’s movie ‘I, Robot’ in 2004, you might recall that the automated car transporting our hero had to make a decision to preserve life in a situation where two lives were at risk – a decision that the hero did not agree with.

In Queensland, if a motor vehicle accident occurs an injured party is able to claim compensation if they can prove fault against another driver, a principle known as negligence.

Under current law, negligence can only occur by a human driver and does not extend to a machine or artificial intelligence.  Changes must be made to Queensland’s Motor Accident Insurance Act to accommodate situations involving an accident caused by an automated vehicle where personal injuries occur.

Recently, the National Transport Commission released a paper titled ‘Motor Accident Injury Insurance and Automated Vehicles’.  This paper considered alternative insurance models that might allow an injured person to receive compensation in the event of an accident caused by an automated vehicle.

Strong contenders for amendments include developing new legislation to deal only with injuries caused by an automated vehicle or allowing private insurers to come on board in offering compulsory third party insurance.  As it currently stands, the only permitted CTP insurers are Allianz, QBE, RACQ or Suncorp.  However, those ideas were dismissed by the National Transport Commission on the basis that the exercise would be costly and premature at this early stage.

The better contender for amendments seems to be the expansion of the current legislation to include injuries caused by an automated vehicle or to introduce national benchmarks for the scope and coverage of injuries caused by an automated vehicle.

This is an interesting and developing area of law. Watch this space for future developments on automated vehicles.

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