The EU is urged to regulate who is responsible for traffic accidents caused by autonomous vehicles

The imminent arrival to European roads of level 3 autonomous vehicles, which allow the driver to remove his/her hands from the steering wheel under certain circumstances, has heightened the debate regarding who is responsible for the accidents caused by this type of vehicle. This is an issue that has important consequences, also regarding the repair of insured vehicles.

Germany has just authorized a car maker to sell a Level 3 autonomous vehicle. For now, only up to a speed of 60 kilometers per hour, in sections of road properly mapped and within a geolocated perimeter. We are talking about more than 13.000 kilometers of the German highway network. Right after learning about this authorization by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) has asked the EU to create a common system in order to regulate autonomous driving.

Currently there is no European supervision that serves all of the EU members. Germany was the pioneer in modifying their traffic regulations in 2017, to allow the use of Level 3 automated driving systems. But, as the European Transport Safety Council explains, there is still no concrete regulation for the rest of the countries. Therefore, their petition asks that accidents caused by vehicles driven by automatic driving systems be subject to specific investigations with the results published to the public. 


The European Transport Safety Council adds that there are strong pressures to increase the speed that these vehicles can circulate, or to create lanes specifically for autonomous vehicles, factors that can increase the potential risks. In their opinion, it would be irresponsible for the EU and its member states to permit the use of systems with a high level of risk without a solid system of supervision. Currently, adds the ETSC, we do not have data regarding the amount of accidents that occurred when the driver assistance systems were activated. A situation that should now offset the arrival of these systems that drive vehicles by themselves.


The concern of the ETSC with the monitorization and investigation of accidents caused by autonomous vehicles is explained by their interest in improving road safety. But this supervision might also provide useful information in respect to the impact that the most  advanced automation systems have on accident rates. In the same manner, the question of responsibility in the case of an accident has important consequences for everyone involved in the repair process.