Driverless car: a legal grey area

driverless cars

The BC government may have to tackle the issue of driverless cars sooner rather than later. Video footage of a self-driving car slowly moving through a Richmond parking lot – partly on the wrong side of the road – raises questions about the legality of autonomous vehicles in the province.

While self-driving cars are already on highways in several US states, there is still confusion around their legal status in BC.

Video of driverless car

The footage of the driverless car in Richmond made headlines last week. According to reports, the Tesla was being controlled by Smart Summon, a feature which autonomously brings the car to the owner’s location.

It prompted ICBC to issue a statement saying BC laws do not currently permit driverless vehicles:

“Autonomous and driverless vehicles are not currently permitted on B.C. highways, as reflected by federal regulations. These cars do not currently qualify for insurance, and driving an uninsured vehicle on a highway or roadway is one reason these vehicles are not permitted on B.C. roadways.”

ICBC warned that if the self-driving car caused an accident, the owner’s insurance may not have provided coverage.

But what exactly is the status of driverless cars?

Grey area

It may come as a surprise, but there are no laws or regulations governing autonomous vehicles or Tesla’s Smart Summon feature in BC. There’s simply no case law to determine what would happen in the event of a self-driving car causing an accident.

Who the driver would be in such a situation is not clear. As a driver, you’re responsible for the safe operation of your motor vehicle. If you initiate a feature like Smart Summon, it’s arguably your responsibility if an accident occurs as a result. It hasn’t happened so far in BC, however, so who knows?

ICBC’s regulations when it comes to cruise control might provide some answers. According to ICBC, the driver is responsible for the operation of the vehicle when driver assistance, such as cruise control, is activated. Similarly, if you crash into someone because an automatic braking system did not work, it is the driver’s fault.

Behind the times

While ICBC is saying driverless cars are not permitted, a huge problem could be on the horizon if rules are not put in place soon. The technology is not that far off.

ICBC says it is actively monitoring the “emerging field” of autonomous vehicle technology in BC. With new developments happening all the time, the BC government must move quickly on the legality of autonomous vehicles.

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