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Who is at fault in an accident when no one is driving?

The laws dealing with motor vehicles in Ontario are constantly evolving to keep pace with changes in how vehicles are built. From the creation of the first laws for horseless carriages to statutes covering headlamps, wipers and seat belts, each new enhancement has, over time, ushered in the need for new edicts to govern the use of the advances. When a motor vehicle accident occurs, all applicable facets of the law are scrutinized to determine whether a driver was at fault in some manner. So what happens if there is no driver?

Self-driving vehicles are no longer the stuff of science fiction. They are, in fact, right around the bend. While they are not available to the public yet, semi-autonomous vehicles are. The Tesla Model S is one such vehicle already on the streets. In fact, it is this vehicle that has provided the first test case in the United States after a fatal accident occurred in Florida recently. 

There has been no decision as of yet whether it was the driver or the car that was at fault, but the ruling will be historic either way. The general consensus in the Canadian legal community is that responsibility lies with the driver, and a temporary auto-pilot system should be viewed in the same manner as cruise control. In that case, currently existing laws may be enough to cover these new vehicles.

When the Ontario government launched a program in January of this year to allow limited testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roadways, a new era in motoring began. Though no tests have occurred thus far, it is only a matter of time. Until new laws are in place to regulate operation of semi- and fully autonomous vehicles, any accident involving such a vehicle will create a legal challenge for those involved. For victims of a self-driving vehicle accident, legal counsel from a firm experienced in vehicle and injury law will be an important safety feature.

Source: Design Engineering, "Who is liable in driverless car accidents?", Terry Pedwell, August 2, 2016

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