No need for specific driverless cars legislation, says leading City solicitor

Rufus BallasterA partner at one of the first City of London law firms to develop a specialism relating to self-driving cars has said that there is no need for new legislation to determine their moral reasoning.

Rufus Ballaster, a partner at leading City of London law firm Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, commented on the application of the so-called ‘trolley dilemma’, with the moral reasoning of driverless cars continuing to attract widespread debate.

He said: “As a lawyer who has worked through decades of rapid change in how life is led, I am always impressed at how English Common Law can adapt and operate with little or no legislative interference.

“If no law is passed in this area, it would not mean that there is no English law which regulates liability for the moral reasoning of a driverless car. Most likely a driverless car would have imposed on it a higher duty of care than a car with a human at the wheel. The law currently acknowledges human reaction times and the range of options available in trying to achieve the least bad outcomes in dire emergency cases.

“A driverless car can and should have access to far more data than a human is expected to process and there is no need for an Act of Parliament to direct the courts on this topic. Judges may very well develop an excellent framework off the back of the early cases.”

Rufus illustrated his point with a hypothetical example of how the law might apply to driverless cars.

“Car A is driving along a main road within the speed limit, approaching a side road, the traffic from which ought to give way and along which are buildings such that, from Car A, the driver cannot see what is on that road.

“Car B emerges above the speed limit without giving way from the side road and smashes into Car A, Car B turns over twice, before bursting into flames and its driver dies. Car A has damage to its rear passenger side, but all of the occupants of Car A are merely shaken, not injured in any physical way,” said Rufus.

He added: “Although there has been a road traffic accident involving two cars and somebody is dead, the driver of Car A ought not to be at risk of a criminal prosecution, nor of a civil suit as the driver at fault was that of Car B. Indeed Car A can claim damages from the now sadly deceased driver of Car B and the insurer for that vehicle should pay up for the damage to Car A.

Rufus said that, if the principles of this case were to be applied to an incident involving a driverless car, the legal position would not be substantially different.

“Imagine exactly the same scenario in which Car A is driverless and Car B had a human behind the wheel. Car A might have more data as to the risk of Car B emerging than a human is behind the wheel would and it might react more quickly upon realising the risk.

“The whole accident or at least the damage to Car A might be averted, but if Car A’s programming led it to continue on its course and hope Car B would brake or swerve to avoid it and that failed to prevent the collision, and Car B still flipped and burst into flames and the driver of Car B died, the conclusion ought to be the same.

“Car B was at fault, Car A did what a well-driven vehicle ought to have been doing and no liability should fall on Car A. Indeed the damage to Car A should be made good by a claim settled by Car B’s insurers.”

Rufus was of the view that this means that law from Parliament would be better directed at the regulation of issues such as which part of the production line carries the duty of care, what insurance that entity needs to hold and what happens if a driverless car causes damage, but for whatever reason lacks the obligatory insurance.

Rufus said: “This is part of an exciting time of change and the UK needs to get on board and enjoy the ride, rather than thinking that until the law of the land is changed, none of this can happen.”