Liability laws must address cars’ safety features

The popularity of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is growing in Australia with sensors, collision warning and assisted parking systems now standard in new vehicles- but lawmakers are yet to adequately address laws which cover negligence and general safety standards.

Data indicates ADAS vehicles help reduce injuries, property damage and dangerous driving – but a new article by a Flinders University researcher highlights how advanced safety features may also override human control of vehicles, raising new questions about legal responsibility.

Dean of Law, Associate Professor Tania Leiman, says the article in the Policy and Society journal highlights why ADAS and driver-monitoring technologies pose challenges for Australian jurisdictions where compensation for road traffic trauma depends on establishing proof of fault and liability.

“Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) already widely available on vehicles currently on the market including blind spot monitoring, automated speed and braking. How should existing  legal tests and standards apply to this new technology?  Should it change what we expect from reasonable drivers, and  precautions those drivers should take against the risks of harm on our roads?.”

ADAS systems assist drivers in daily tasks like parking, detecting obstacles and nearby objects to reduce human error but these safety systems can also change the way drivers  interact with their vehicle in emergency situations.

“At the highest level of intervention, ADAS can either take action independently or overrides the action of the driver so the task no longer relies on physical interaction between a human with that vehicle. Perhaps this should change  our expectations about risk and negligence too ?,” says Associate Professor Leiman.

Data also indicates advanced technology has already made substantial safety gains, changing expectations on what is reasonable to expect of drivers, passengers, vehicle owners, insurers, and fleet managers.

“Getting the regulatory frameworks ‘right’ can assist emerging vehicle technology to be further ‘developed and used in socially beneficial ways and avoid potential harms.”

“Critical questions therefore arise about whether it continues to be reasonable to for ‘un-augmented human drivers’ to operate motor vehicles. While the experience of earlier safety technologies like seat belts can be instructive, ADAS and driver-monitoring technologies are different, demanding a different response. It also brings into sharp relief the even more complex issues in store in relation to level 3, 4 and 5 automated and autonomous vehicles in the future.”

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College of Business, Government and Law