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My understanding is that if one has a collision with another vehicle in which the other driver is at fault then you can sue the other driver for the loss incurred. If the other driver was employed by a company and driving a vehicle owned by that company then that company is likely to pick up the bill, but the suit would be directed at the individual in the first case. This would be the case whether the collision occurred on private or public land.

There is currently a fully autonomous shuttle driving around a privately owned campus in the UK. It has a habit of starting off after picking up passengers while it is being overtaken, in a way that is contrary to the highway code guidance. I think a human driver would be at fault if they drove in this manner.

I think this vehicle is owned by a French company, operating under a contract with the owner of the campus and supported by multiple organizations on and off site. It is insured and heavily sponsored by Aviva such that this is the prime company one would associate with the vehicle from viewing it.

If one had a collision with this vehicle in a way that a human driver of that vehicle would be at fault, who should one sue?

autonomous vehicle in operation

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  • > It has a habit of starting off ... while it is being overtaken, in a way that is contrary to the highway code guidance... Of course, if you (or others) have repeatedly ("habit") seen it behave in an unsafe fashion but not reported it, then could you be (partly) liable too?
    – Lou Knee
    Feb 2, 2022 at 22:19
  • I don't see information on whether on not it was reported. I also don't think that any duty could be asserted in this case. That would compel the public to do the job of the company that wanted to put that AI car on the roads in the first place. The company should make sure that it is able to obtain such "bug" information especially when its driver is at the wheel, or maybe even more so if no one is at the wheels (they should have someone in the second seat)
    – kisspuska
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:58
  • @kisspuska Because if the whole campus were a closed workplace rather than open to the public, then workplace safety rules would apply. Legal duty on OP to report safety violations, and all that (note I bolded "unsafe" in my comment, and it's a comment not an answer).
    – Lou Knee
    Feb 3, 2022 at 0:04
  • If you have any suggestions about how to report this I could be tempted. It seems a bit dangerous to me. I am fairly sure I am not employed by a company who would hold responsibility for this vehicle.
    – User65535
    Feb 3, 2022 at 9:16
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    I don't know how Harwell works behind the scenes. Assuming you are an employee of/working at one of their tenant organisations then I would talk to your own H&S people and they should escalate onwards on your behalf (via campus management). Alternatively the shuttle page says "Darwin Innovation Group will run the shuttle service and gather information about its operation." so you could either raise it directly with them, or again go via campus management.
    – Lou Knee
    Feb 4, 2022 at 0:04

2 Answers 2

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[if] the other driver is at fault then you can sue the other driver for the loss incurred. If the other driver was employed by a company [...] then that company is likely to pick up the bill...

Not necessarily.

I would say that losses are usually covered by the at-fault driver's insurance (or the MIB if uninsured).

Either way, according to the OP's link "the shuttle is insured by Aviva" so they would seem to be liable under section 2 of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018:

Liability of insurers etc where accident caused by automated vehicle

(1) Where—

  • (a) an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself on a road or other public place in Great Britain,

  • (b) the vehicle is insured at the time of the accident, and

  • (c) an insured person or any other person suffers damage as a result of the accident,

the insurer is liable for that damage.

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  • But does this Act apply given that - as the OP asked in the question - this is a private road on a private campus? The extract you quote refers to "public place".
    – Lou Knee
    Feb 2, 2022 at 22:11
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    @LouKnee Although it's on campus grounds, "public place" has been defined as: "Any place to which the public have open access is a public place, even if payment must be made to gain entry" The only reputable source I can find to confirm this is PNLD but that's behind a pay wall, so I'm looking for an open-source reference to back this up.
    – user35069
    Feb 2, 2022 at 22:42
  • @LouKnee "The principle must therefore be that a public place is a place to which the public have access." From DPP v Greenwood (1997 EWHC Admin 129
    – user35069
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:03
  • @kisspuska Sorry I don't follow you. Can you clarify what you mean, please?
    – user35069
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:05
  • But the campus access page says If you’d like to access Harwell’s facilities ... please get in touch and the shuttle page the shuttle, which is currently available to campus pass-holders and registered guests which to me (IANAL) seems similar to "the car park of a members' private club" in your second reference. Or does a lack of gates/turnstiles at entrances trump that?
    – Lou Knee
    Feb 2, 2022 at 23:44
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This is a general answer not specific to the UK, but I would imagine it would nonetheless apply generally.

Autonomous vehicles with supervising/backup driver

Most autonomous testing takes place with a driver at the wheel who can, with limited, effort intervene. They are there to do just that. The case is most similar to liability in professional driving schools where the instructor typically don’t even have an additional steering wheel on their side to constantly hold on to but not use force against where the wheel turns based on the student driver’s operation of the vehicle until it is needed for a safety reason. In those cases generally the instructor would be liable. Especially where both the pedals and the wheel is duplicated for the instructor who is probably either covered by a liability insurance or otherwise.

The matter can become complex depending on whether the manufacturer/developer knew or should have known about a present safety issue and how they reacted, whether the vehicle/model was built/developed, for e.g., negligently, but the argument that the driver signs a contract acknowledging the possibility of any sudden, unexpected event and taking full responsibility to be there and overtake, really, doesn’t make it that complex. Of course, anyone can sue anyone for anything. The issue is more serious with non-professional driving supervision (consumers buying under-testing autonomous vehicles) and never signing similar acknowledgments. One more scenario that could be possible, but I don’t know any actual examples of, would be a third party company contracted to provide supervising driver — all the U.S. examples I am aware of it is either the AI model’s devs or the manufacturer who provides the driver.

Unsupervised/no-backup driver

In the case where there isn’t human supervision, will head toward to the manufacturer and/or the party liable for the AI model unless they are the same company — this latter is rather common. (As pointed out in the comments, in the U.S., this would be a products liability matter requiring no proof of negligence merely that the design or manufacture caused the accident) Authorities negligently permitting testing or similar theories would rather fall on the frivolous side, and there aren’t really many more possibilities.

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    In the case of the Herzberg accident, the safety driver behind the wheel was scheduled for a trial in 2021, but it is delayed, partially due to COVID and partially because of other complex issues.
    – Trish
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:09
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    Side note: in Germany, driving shools need to mirror the pedals, but generally don't have extra wheels - the instructor might reach into the wheel to avoid a collision though.
    – Trish
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:17
  • Agreed with both, added some more language. Having regulation requiring mirrored wheels is rather the exception than the rule, yet the instructor is still at the forefront of liability.
    – kisspuska
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:23
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    Also worth noting that in cases with no supervision the lawsuit is basically a products liability suit, for which in U.S. law there would be strict liability, rather than a requirement that negligence be established.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:55
  • Added language.
    – kisspuska
    Feb 2, 2022 at 19:07

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