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Self-driving cars: Who’s liable when software is at the wheel?

Self-driving cars: Who’s liable when software is at the wheel?

BY JEREMY ROGERS, ESQ.

In the near future, driving just won’t be the same as it used to be.

Tasks such as placing your hands at 10-and-2 on the steering wheel, looking for cross traffic at intersections, checking your blind-spot before changing lanes, and being attentive to surrounding traffic and weather conditions may well become obsolete because of advances in automotive technology.

In place of old driving maneuvers, “drivers” will be able to program their autonomous, self-driving vehicles by simply speaking the desired destination into an in-dash microphone and by keeping their hands off the wheel (if the vehicle is even equipped with a steering wheel).

Indeed, the beginning of the driving experience revolution is already here. Many drivers are quite familiar with parking assistance, which parallel parks the vehicle without any help from the driver or manual operation of the steering wheel, and electronic stability control. Current vehicles are also equipped with warnings for forward collisions, lane departure and intersection violations. All of these features have been implemented to make the driving experience safer.

Accidents will happen

Yet despite all of these current and future safety advances, as long as there are more than two vehicles on the road, it is inevitable that the cars will find a way to crash into each other. As everyone knows, technology is fallible and accidents happen. And, once this new technology fails and accidents involving autonomous cars do occur, the types of claims and potential at-fault parties will likely be much different from the current ones.

Instead of a simple tort negligence action between two drivers, future collisions may trigger product liability actions against automakers; component manufacturers; federal and state agencies; and various municipalities.

Here is what insurance professionals need to know in order to manage the upcoming product liability risks posed by self-driving vehicles.

Fully autonomous vehicles are coming down the road

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in its May 2013 “Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles,” there are five levels of vehicle automation, including:

  • Level 0 (no automation). The driver is in complete and sole control of the vehicle’s controls and responsible for monitoring the roadway and traffic conditions.
  • Level 1 (function-specific automation). The vehicle has one or more specific control functions (brake, steering, throttle or motive power) that is automated, but the driver maintains overall control of the vehicle.
  • Level 2 (combined function automation). The vehicle has at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions, but the driver is still responsible for monitoring the roadway.
  • Level 3 (limited self-driving automation). The driver foregoes all key driving functions under specific traffic or other circumstances, but is able to resume control once those conditions no longer exist.
  • Level 4 (full self-driving automation). The vehicle is designed to perform all primary driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for the entire length of travel.

Self-driving vehicles at Levels 3 and 4 are still in the testing phase.

At present, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes authorizing the testing of autonomous vehicles. Tennessee has a law in place forbidding its municipalities from prohibiting automated vehicles that otherwise comply with all local safety regulations. Virginia’s governor has entered a partnership allowing testing of self-driving cars to take place in the “Virginia Automated Corridors.” And Arizona’s governor ordered state agencies to support testing of automated vehicles on its roadways and establishing an oversight committee. Many other state legislatures are also considering regulations on how to incorporate testing of autonomous vehicle within their state lines.

What’s under the hood of a self-driving car?

Automakers such as Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, Toyota and Volvo are currently testing some form of self-driving cars. While each manufacturer will certainly include features unique to their brands, all autonomous vehicles will likely contain several shared components that allow them to operate properly, such as cameras, sensors, GPS-tracking, radars, lasers, cyber security software, and “vehicle-to-vehicle” (V2V) communication technology.

In a February 2013 press release, the NHTSA suggested that V2V technology “would improve safety by allowing vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other and ultimately avoid many crashes altogether by exchanging basic safety data, such as speed and position, ten times per second.”

Computers and cars both crash (into each other)

In its February 2015 “Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey,” the NHTSA estimated that 94% of motor vehicle accidents were attributable to human behavior (i.e., drunk driving, speeding and driver inattentiveness), as opposed to 2% for vehicle conditions, 2% for environmental conditions, and 2% for unknown reasons. The primary purpose of autonomous vehicles is to reduce the number of accidents, in part, by attempting to limit human error entirely. However, the risk of automotive accidents will always exist because of human behavior, emergencies, unpredictable events and automated system failures.

While autonomous technology will come, there is a segment of the driving public that will prefer to remain low-tech (and retain full control of their vehicles). Thus, self-driving cars of the future will need to co-exist with the human drivers of the past, which introduces an innumerable combination of collision scenarios. For instance, presently, most accidents involve only human driver vs. human driver situations. In the coming years, however, there will be accidents involving human driver vs. semi-automated driver, human driver vs. fully-automated driver, semi-automated driver vs. semi-automated driver, semi-automated driver vs. fully-automated driver, and driver fully-automated vs. fully-automated driver, as well as other combinations (i.e., single vehicle collisions and multi-vehicle chain-reaction collisions).

Determining the causes of self-driving vehicle collisions will also be more complicated and present some unique challenges. Was the accident due to human error operating a vehicle with no or limited automation? Did the collision occur due to an inappropriate or unsuccessful driver override? Did the vehicle’s software malfunction, contain a computer virus, was it breached by hackers or cyber terrorists, or simply outdated (due to not receiving regular system upgrades)?

Assessing liability in autonomous vehicle accidents

As technology’s role in the driving experience increases and the element of human control decreases, the types of claims most likely arising from self-driving vehicle collisions will be based upon product liability theories. Generally, claimants in product liability claims can sue anyone involved in the manufacture or sale of the product, inclusive of retailers, distributors, importers and original manufacturers.

In the autonomous vehicle context, product liability claims have the potential for involving automakers, manufacturers of the cars’ critical technology and components, and car dealerships.

Additionally, based on the type of collision involved, product liability claims may be pursued under a design defect theory (that is, the product was dangerous as it was designed, and a safer alternative was available and should have been used), a manufacturing theory (an error occurred in the manufacturing process that made the product dangerous), or under both theories.

Parties involved in autonomous vehicle collisions may also attempt to file a negligence action (claiming that the manufacturer or retailer knew or should have known of a specific danger of the product) or breach of warranty action (the manufacturer or retailer failed to fulfil an expressed or implied warranty).

Beyond the sellers and manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, litigants may also seek to file suit against and attribute fault to various federal and state agencies and local municipalities. This is so because the infrastructure — accurate traffic and roadway conditions, communication devices and towers, electronic information bandwidth, etc. — upon which autonomous technology relies will likely be built, regulated and maintained by governmental entities. In the event this infrastructure fails because of lack of funding, natural disaster, acts of terrorism or human error, an injured claimant (and his or her counsel) may sue such entities to ensure that there are no empty chairs left at the defense table at trial.

Buckle-up and get ready for the ride

Self-driving vehicles are on the horizon and will be in dealership showrooms relatively soon. Fortunately, there is adequate time for the insurance industry to decide how it wants to get into the flow of autonomous vehicle traffic. Insurers will need to consider how to incorporate self-driving vehicles into their business models from policy declarations and endorsements, and property damage assessment and replacement, to claims handling, liability determinations and apportionments of fault. The coming of autonomous vehicles will be a sea change in the driving

IBC’s Top 10 Most Frequently Stolen Vehicles for 2015

On December 2, 2015, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) published its annual Top 10 Most Frequently Stolen Vehicles list. Once again, Ford trucks and expensive SUVs figure prominently. However, this year, organized criminals have taken a different approach hoping to avoid being detected and caught when exporting the stolen vehicles. ​

2008 Ford F-450 Super Duty: The 2008 Ford F-Series Super Duty's bold new design visually emphasizes Super Duty's increased capability. The larger, more prominent grille, sharply sculpted fender flares and fender-mounted air vents are just a few of the new design cues that announce that Super Duty is all about working hard. (09/28/06)

“We are seeing containers in the Montreal and Halifax ports stocked with car and truck parts,” said Rick Dubin, Vice-President, Investigative Services, IBC. “Crooks are trying to fool Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and IBC by dismantling high-end, late-model vehicles. CBSA and IBC have seized 41 of these vehicles that had been dismantled.”

Dubin went on to say, “Together, CBSA and IBC have recovered over $10 million in stolen vehicles at the ports this year alone.”

While there has been a decline in auto theft over the last decade, there has been an uptick in auto theft in 2014. “Stolen vehicles are up 1% to 73,964 across Canada, with the biggest increases in B.C. (up 29%) and Alberta (up 2%),” added Dubin.

Top 10 List

This year’s 10 most frequently stolen vehicles in Canada are:

  1. FORD    F350 SD 4WD    PU 2005
  2. FORD    F350 SD 4WD    PU 2006
  3. FORD    F350 SD 4WD    PU 2007
  4. CADILLAC ESCALADE 4DR 4WD SUV 2006
  5. FORD    F350 SD 4WD    PU 2003
  6. FORD    F250 SD 4WD    PU 2006
  7. FORD    F350 SD 4WD    PU 2001
  8. FORD    F250 SD 4WD    PU 2004
  9. FORD    F250 SD 4WD    PU 2007
  10. FORD    F250 SD 4WD    PU 2001

According to Dubin, “None of the top 10 stolen vehicles are equipped with an electronic manufacturer immobilizer as a theft deterrent system, so they are easier to steal. We also see from this list that criminals continue to have a huge demand for AWD/4WD late model high-end vehicles.”

ICBC Launches Phone Line for Cantonese and Mandarin-Speaking Customers

Customers who speak Cantonese or Mandarin can now speak directly to ICBC in their language of choice, thanks to a new, dedicated phone line that launched November 27, 2015.

Language line

Language line

The Chinese line allows customers to connect to a Cantonese or Mandarin-speaking interpreter who will help relay the customer’s claim, driver licensing or insurance enquiry to an ICBC representative and interpret the conversation. The toll-free line (1-855-813-2121), is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week for claims-related enquiries. For insurance and driver licensing enquiries, the line is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

These languages were selected based on customer demand. Cantonese and Mandarin are two of the most common languages spoken in Vancouver outside of English (2011 Census). They also rank in the top three languages most requested by ICBC customers, which are Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese, making up approximately 75 per cent of all interpretation inquiries.

The Chinese line supplements ICBC’s ongoing efforts to serve its multilingual customers. ICBC’s website features dedicated pages fully translated in the three most-requested languages. ICBC also provides free, over-the-phone, interpretation services in 170 languages. In 2013, ICBC launched its first direct phone line for Punjabi-speaking customers.

Since introducing its telephone language assistance service, the number of phone interpretation requests have tripled, with over 441,000 requests received in the last full year. All telephone interpretation services are provided by Canada-based company, CanTalk.

More details about ICBC’s direct Chinese phone line can be found at icbc.com/Chinese and icbc.com.

Source: ICBC

Jingle bells. Sirens sound. Should have called a friend.

SGI and police focus on impaired drivers in December

sgi_logoImpaired driving is back in the number one spot for traffic-related fatalities in Saskatchewan and police will be cracking down throughout the holiday season. Law enforcement will be looking for drivers who are impaired by either drugs or alcohol throughout the month of December.

On average in Saskatchewan, there are more than 1,300 collisions each year involving alcohol and/or other drugs, resulting in 58 deaths and 656 injuries.

“These aren’t just numbers. They are real people who have been hurt or killed because someone chose to drive impaired,” said Earl Cameron, Vice President of the Auto Fund. “While spreading holiday cheer with friends and family, remember that someone you love is waiting for you to get home safely.”

Consequences for driving impaired by alcohol or drugs vary depending on driver experience and number of offences, and include fines, licence suspensions, vehicle seizures and mandatory ignition interlock for convicted impaired drivers. There is zero drug and alcohol tolerance for drivers under 19 years of age, and for all drivers in the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) or Motorcycle GDL programs.

Police can detect drug-impaired drivers through the driver’s actions such as weaving within a lane, delayed reaction times and inability to follow instructions, as well as the driver’s physical appearance, including dilated pupils, poor balance and coordination. Police can legally request a Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) at the road side for drug-impaired driving.

Illegal drugs, as well as some prescription drugs (e.g. anti-depressants, pain killers) and over-the-counter drugs (e.g. antihistamines, motion sickness medications) can impact driving ability. Mixing different drugs together or mixing drugs with alcohol could increase impairment levels by as much as three times. Drivers should review the side effects of any medication they’re taking with their doctor or pharmacist to understand how it could affect their driving.

“Impaired driving collisions are 100 per cent preventable. With so many options to not drive impaired, there are no excuses,” said Cameron. “When planning a night out, make a safe ride home part of your plan. Choose a designated driver in advance, call a taxi or designated driving service, take the bus, walk, or stay over. Please don’t put your life and the lives of others at risk.”

Drivers are also reminded of the Report Impaired Drivers (RID) program. RID is a road safety program that encourages the public to call 911 to report a suspected impaired driver. If you see a driver you think is impaired, pull over safely to the side of the road and call 911.

Get more information on the consequences of impaired driving. SGI also has a SafeRide app to help you keep track of options for getting home safely – available to download for free from the app store. Follow SGI on Facebook and Twitter for tips on how #wecandrivebetter.

Motorists Warned to “Lock it Down!” When it comes to their Vehicles and Valuables Left in Plain View

With the holiday season almost upon us, Ontario’s Police Chiefs are encouraging motorists and passengers to LOCK IT DOWN! when it comes to their vehicles and to not leave valuables in plain view. The Province’s top cops today launched the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police’s (OACP) annual Lock It OR Lose It campaign in Toronto. The campaign is a crime prevention program that encourages drivers and passengers to take precautions to protect their vehicles and vehicle contents from theft, particularly during the holiday season, but also throughout the year.

“Thieves know that an unlocked vehicle is an open invitation to crime. So is leaving your valuables in plain sight,” said OACP President Chief Jeff McGuire (Niagara Regional Police Service). “This is a busy time of the year. It’s easy to be distracted and leave your vehicle unlocked or valuables in your car. Take extra time to lock it down.”

NYC-car-thiefThe campaign was kicked off at GO Transit’s Scarborough Station where commuters leave their vehicles in order to access GO trains.

“Keeping our customers safe is our top priority here at GO Transit, which is why we are proud supporters of this campaign,” said Greg Percy, President of GO Transit. “Our Transit Safety Officers will be working alongside police officers to ensure our customers are taking the steps they need to take to protect their vehicles and their belongings.”

During the Lock It OR Lose It campaign, police officers and Special Constables examine parked vehicles to confirm they are locked and that no valuables have been left in plain view. Officers place a small notice on vehicles checked indicating what safety precautions were neglected and offer simple prevention tips for drivers to protect their vehicles against theft. The notices also congratulate drivers who have secured their vehicle.

“IBC is a proud partner of the Lock It OR Lose It campaign. In the lead up to the holiday season, there are more cars on the roads, in the parking lots, and everyone is more distracted than normal. This season is prime business time for thieves. So, as you go to park your car, do one simple thing: lock it down. Together, we can help Ontarians have a fun and safe holiday season.” said Rick Dubin, Vice-President, Investigative Services, Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Motorists and passengers are urged not to keep personal documents such as vehicle ownership, liability pink slips, credit card invoices, or other documents containing personal information in their vehicles. Identity thieves are looking for such documents so they can assume identities, secure credit card accounts, lease vehicles for export, and even take out a mortgage against victims’ properties without their knowledge.

Facts:

  • Auto thefts have been on the decline over the past decade – this is great news. However, in the past 12 months, there has been an uptick. Stolen vehicles are up 1% to 73,924 across Canada.
  • There has been an increase in identity theft in recent years. Cases of identity theft and fraud have increased across Canada from 10,807 in 2010 to 11,594 in 2013 – a 6% increase.

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