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Driverless cars: Who should be blamed for accidents?

Driverless cars: Who should be blamed for accidents?

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 28 Sep 2020
Author: K.C. Vijayan

As society prepares for self-driving or autonomous cars, questions may be raised as to who is to blame when a traffic accident involving such vehicles leads to damage and personal injury.

As society prepares for self-driving or autonomous cars, questions may be raised as to who is to blame when a traffic accident involving such vehicles leads to damage and personal injury.

A sub-committee of the Law Reform Committee from the Singapore Academy of Law has published a report on what could be done in terms of negligence, product liability and no-fault liability.

"The much-anticipated mainstream adoption of autonomous cars is fast becoming reality. While such 'self-driving' technologies are predicted to reduce drastically the number of road traffic accidents, incidents will inevitably still occur.

"Questions therefore arise as to who should be liable for those accidents where they result in injury or harm, and on what legal basis," said the academy in publishing the report on its website this month.

The Attribution of Civil Liability for Accidents Involving Autonomous Cars report was produced by the academy's 11-member Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Sub-committee co-chaired by Justice Kannan Ramesh and Mr Charles Lim Aeng Cheng, parliamentary counsel and chief knowledge officer of the Attorney-General's Chambers.

The report is part of the Law Reform Committee's series on the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the law.

The authors argue that autonomous vehicles complicate the normal process of determining who should be liable for an accident, how liability is to be established and assessing any relevant defences.

For example, with self-driving cars, many if not all events leading up to an accident may stem from decisions made by the car's autonomous features, with no human input or intervention whatsoever.

At issue then is who should be liable - the car's manufacturer (or importer), the manufacturer of any component that did not function properly or the car's owner or user.

The report also suggests that given the opacity of complex AI systems "workings" - the so-called black-box problem - it may be technologically difficult to identify the specific factors that caused the accident and to what extent.

Also, where liability is based on certain standards of care or product quality, there are then equal challenges in determining whether such standards have been breached, added the report.

It further considers the challenges faced when trying to apply existing liability frameworks - specifically negligence, product liability and so-called "no-fault liability" - in that context.

The committee noted the tentative regulatory steps forward on this issue in other jurisdictions, such as Japan, the United States and the European Union.

"Given Singapore's long-established negligence-based liability regime and the potential transition costs entailed in adopting a wholly new model, the more productive approach may therefore be to retain the existing system, but make targeted modifications to import the desirable features of product liability and no-fault liability," said the committee in its report.

It further suggests that Singapore may have opportunities to be a first-mover in adopting a comprehensive, bespoke framework that facilitates the widespread use of autonomous vehicular technology on its roads.

"However, as the analysis in this report indicates, the optimal nature or basis for such a regulatory framework remains far from clear," the authors said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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