Interior of self-driving vehicle

How Self-Driving Vehicles are likely to Change the Legal Landscape

As the possibility of self-driving cars becoming the norm keeps encroaching, questions remain unanswered on how this may impact the future of personal injury law.

Recently, the City of Toronto, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and Metrolinx partnered up and launched the West Rouge Automated Shuttle Trial, a temporary local transit service using a low-speed automated vehicle that is mostly self-driving.[1] While a human attendant will always be on-board to take over driving if needed, this is a great opportunity to allow riders and transit partners to learn how automated vehicles will fare on Toronto’s busy roads.

With the self-driving industry progressing rapidly, many may express hesitancy with an AI driving them around. In Ontario, one main issue is whether self-driving cars would be suitable for our winter weather conditions of snow and rain. These concerns are valid and there is still much to be done before fully operational self-driving vehicles are commercialized. However, preliminary evidence suggests that self-driving cars are likely to be safer for everyone on the roads. In comparison to human drivers, they have a quicker reaction time, will not be distracted, and cannot become intoxicated. They are also likely to minimize congestion issues.

With self-driving vehicles likely to become a reality of Ontario’s transportation experience in the near future, there should be a focus on the unique legal challenges that may arise. These challenges involve serious consideration of government regulations and liability. Who will be held liable if parties are involved in an accident with a self-driving vehicle? Will negligence shift from the driver of the vehicle to the car company or will it shift to a third-party who was responsible for installing the self-driving parts? Also, will insurance companies, who rely on human error to assess liability, exist in the same way they do now?

At this time these questions remain unanswered. As personal injury lawyers, we will have to keep a close eye out on the domino effect that self-driving cars are likely to cause. More importantly, we will need to work hard on adapting with this technology to serve our clients in the most effective and just manner.  

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