The introduction of driverless cars is set to change the shape of defendant legal practice, leading firm Kennedys has said.
It also called for compulsory car insurance to be widened to include product liability to cover the introduction of driverless cars.
Responding to a Department for Transport consultation on how to support the development and use of the new technology – which had a particular focus on the insurance implications – Kennedys said it was too early to redesign insurance law to take account of driverless vehicles, and that amending the Road Traffic Act 1988 to extend compulsory cover to product liability would suffice for now.
But the firm predicted: “In time, highly or fully autonomous vehicles will be considered a different class of vehicle requiring additional compulsory cover. It is most likely that one go-to entity will provide all necessary cover – rather than a set of entities.” The requirements would be in a single piece of legislation, it thought.
Looking at how driverless cars might impact defendant legal practice, Kennedys said it would need to invest in capabilities to better understand the technology, and training for its motor lawyers in other areas of insurance litigation – most notably product liability law – so they could deal with “new and potentially complex liability arguments”.
“In turn, our bills to clients will contain higher amounts for disbursements for use of engineers and other experts – required to interpret in-car and other data in ascertaining share of liability between driver and vehicle manufacturer and others when collisions or damage occurs.”
The firm said it anticipated, in time, far fewer lower-value third-party claim instructions.
“The focus is likely to shift to a smaller subset of more serious injury road accidents (which will fall in frequency too) and an increase in related litigation between AVT [automated vehicle technology] motor manufacturers, software houses and manufacturers of autonomous systems, as well as manufacturers and maintainers of connected road systems and street furniture.”
With regard to those lower value claims that are pursued, the response said there was no reason why the online claims portal could not be adapted to accommodate RTA claims that involve a vehicle with AVT.
It said: “The defendant’s default positon would be that the portal should continue to apply to all low value RTA claims (up to £25,000) to try to pre-empt any mischief by claimant firms to remove such claims from the process for cost purposes.”
More generally, Kennedys backed the government’s intention to keep regulatory reform under constant review as the technology evolves.
It said: “Providing for an ongoing and agile regulatory review means that, as far as is possible, long-term technological change is anticipated. This will ensure that future regulatory change is seamless and occurs only when necessary to reflect a major leap in technological advancement.”
The firm said it would encourage the formation of an industry working group of manufacturers, insurers, lawyers and major fleet operators. “The objective of such a group should be to reach a consensus on what type of vehicles are likely to arrive on the UK market over the next 10 years. This would greatly assist the government with regulatory planning.”
Niall Edwards, head of the motor insurance group and partner at Kennedys, said: “The government wants the UK to be at the forefront of this emerging technology and is taking a sensible approach to regulatory reform – too much, too soon could be damaging. This is an exciting time and promises in the long run to change the shape of the motor industry – and those who advise them – forever.”