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Autonomous vehicles will require a reassessment of liability: RIMS Canada Conference speaker

September 26, 2017   by Jason Contant, Online Editor

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Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology will require a reassessment of liability and the uncertainty surrounding liability may even slow the introduction of AV technology, a speaker suggested on Monday at the RIMS Canada Conference.

Jim Kidd, project manager at the City of Toronto’s insurance and risk management section, was speaking about the topic during a session titled Autonomous Vehicles and the Connected City at the conference, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

While there is some discussion on strict liability, where vehicles are fully autonomous, “a more realistic scenario” initially will be semi-autonomous vehicles, Kidd told conference attendees.

“Human error enters the picture and liability becomes more complicated,” he said. “There’s so many combinations and permeations of autonomousness, if that’s a word.” In addition to the different levels of automation – no automation, driver assistance, partial automation, conditional automation, high automation and full automation (from the Society of Engineers International) – “there’s connected, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure,” Kidd noted.

“Where will liability go?” he asked. “There’s so many parties to attribute liability to: technology failure, product liability. Was it the software? Was it the hardware? Did the technology fail to prevent a collision, did the operator fail to install software updates in a timely manner? Perhaps the uncertainty about how liability may be assessed may slow the introduction of AV technology.”

Although AVs are expected to reduce the number of accidents, it’s possible that each accident may cost more due to the number of parties involved, Kidd told conference attendees. “On the other hand, perhaps all the new sources of data and its collection will make liability assessment easier,” he said.

Another speaker, Ryan Lanyon, chair of the AV Working Group for Transportation Services at the City of Toronto, noted that “you’re not going to have motor vehicle liability concerns as much as you’re going to have product liability concerns. As an example, he said that with Audi’s deployment in 2018 of its A7 and A9 models, “they’ve already agreed that they are going to accept liability for any accident that people get in while in its autonomous mode. They’ve already accepted that they are going to be held to new kinds of fault.”

For the municipal risk manager, how AVs will connect to the city and other vehicles on the street needs to be explored, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure considerations. Fleet programs and their insurance needs will need addressing. For example, the City of Toronto manages five major fleets for the delivery of public services: transit, police, fire, paramedics and another fleet that includes refuse collection, street cleaning, parking, water and unlicensed vehicles. “The city will need to consider the benefits of automation,” Kidd said, adding that “partnerships with tech and automotive companies will be beneficial.”

One major concern for the municipal risk manager dealing with connected AVs will be cybersecurity – “how to keep the city’s traffic, vehicle’s data, including personal information, secure,” Kidd suggested. “The risk manager will have to understand new technologies, both hardware and software, anticipate the deployment of that technology, anticipate the risks associated with the technology before it is deployed. We’re still uncertain as to how AV’s will look, how the technology will be deployed, but it’s coming, so the risk manager must start considering how AVs will impact and fit into the risk matrix.”

For insurers, the lack of “historical data on which to base firm conclusions” will pose a problem. “Trying to anticipate risk is difficult given the lack of data,” he said, adding that insurers will need to collect the data and use it to assess the risk of semi-autonomous vehicles. “They may take a leading role in requiring certain devices become standard so that important data is available,” he added. “They’ll need to work with the automotive and technology industries to determine a standard way for data to be stored.”

Regulation will also be needed to ensure the data is standardized. Cities may even become “data collection depots,” Kidd said. “The flip side of not having enough data would be having too much data. This will likely be the greatest threat to the deployment of AVs: what to do with all the data collected, how to keep it secure.”

While the oft-cited major benefits of AVs include improved safety, improved traffic congestion and reduced emissions, “there’ll no doubt be roadblocks, Kidd said. “It may be a well-publicized system failure and adverse legal precedent that slows the development of AVs.”

The RIMS Canada Conference runs until Wednesday. In addition to Kidd and Lanyon, Autonomous Vehicles and the Connected City heard from George R. Wray, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.

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