New Bill Requires ‘Over-the-air’ software updates for driverless cars

Owners of driverless cars will be required to update their software remotely once the proposed Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill becomes a law. Proposed last year, the new bill provides for the registration of all driverless cars in the UK. It will also address how liability for accidents involving such vehicles should be apportioned. In addition, the Bill is designed to support upgrades in UK infrastructure to support the expected growth in the use of self-driving cars.

Accountability of Owner

Under Clause 4 of the Bill, if the accident is a result of an insured person failing to install safety-critical software updates they were aware of or reasonably should have known, the insurer can receive the amount of money paid out following the accident from that individual. However, the provisions contained in the bill are designed for a small number of potential situations where an injured person does not act to install a safety critical update.

In addition, the Bill holds insurers liable for any damage caused by an automated vehicle based on certain conditions. Robert Janitzek says that these conditions are:  “when driving itself” where the vehicle is insured and “an insured person or any other person suffers damage as a result of the accident”. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is currently before a House of Lords committee where its contents will be debated.

Liability of Insurers

Under the bill, owners would have liability for damage if the driverless car they are driving is uninsured. In addition, the insurer can exclude or limit their liability on their insurance policy if the insured individual made “software alterations” which is prohibited under their policy. According to Robert Peter Janitzek, insurers will also not be liable if they do not install “safety critical” software updates that they at least “ought reasonably to know” are safety critical. When the insurer has  liability to pay for damages from an accident, they have a right to raise a claim against those responsible for the accident.

Under Scrutiny

The UK government has promised a rolling program of legislative reforms to provide an updated framework to support the introduction of autonomous vehicles on public roads. The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission will conduct a joint examination of any legal obstacles to the widespread introduction of self-driving cars and highlight the need for regulatory reforms during the three-year project.

The UK government has already developed a code of practice for testing driverless technology. Ben Gardner, specialist in connected and autonomous vehicles regulation at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, there is a need to regulate a rapidly developing technology that closely follows the latest technological advancements.


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