What Safety are We Entitled to Expect of Self-driving Vehicles?

Author:Taivo Liivak
Taivo Liivak
Doctoral student
University of Tartu
What Safety are We Entitled to
Expect of Self-driving Vehicles?*1
1. Introduction
Self-driving cars are seen as a solution to problems of, in particular, tra c safety*2 and access to transpor-
tation.*3 Only a few years ago, expectations of reaching full driving automation sooner rather than later
were high. Even though this optimism seems to have now become moderated by a heavy dose of reality,*4
e orts to attain full driving automation continue throughout the world, including in Estonia.*5 While the
level of tra c safety to be provided by fully self-driving vehicles seems to be one of their main advantages,*6
accidents caused by them cannot be precluded. To name a few issues, one can cite concerns about the con-
sequences of possible hardware and software malfunctions, as well as security breaches.
Strict liability schemes seem to be the approach best suited for covering damage possibly caused by
self-driving cars. However, in certain situations a manufacturer of self-driving vehicles may be faced with
a claim hinging on the defectiveness of the product.*7 Under Article 6 (1) of the Product Liability Directive
(PLD),*8 a product is deemed defective when it does not provide the safety that a person is entitled to expect,
taking into account all the circumstances. The non-exhaustive list of circumstances set out in Article 6 (1)
includes the presentation of the product, the use to which it could reasonably be expected that the product
This article has been written with the support of the European Regional Development Fund.
Reports from various countries indicate that over % of tra c accidents are caused by human error. See, for example,
C. Grote. ‘Connected Vehicles Will Enhance Tra c Safety and E ciency’ The European Files.  February . Available
at https://www.european les.eu/digital/connected-vehicles-will-enhance-tra c-safety-e ciency (most recently accessed
on ..).
Self-driving cars have the potential to improve access to mobility for several disadvantaged social groups: people with dis-
abilities; the elderly; and, in general, everyone who does not have a driving licence.
H. Fry. ‘The Road to Self-driving Cars Is Full of Speed Bumps’ – Discover Magazine.  October . Available at http://
discovermagazine.com//nov/baby-can-you-drive-my-car (most recently accessed on ..); T.B. Lee. ‘The Hype
around Driverless Cars Came Crashing Down in ’ – Ars Technica.  December . Available at https://arstechnica.
com/cars///uber-tesla-and-waymo-all-struggled-with-self-driving-in-/ (most recently accessed on ..).
For further information, see https://avsincities.bloomberg.org (most recently accessed on ..).
U.S. Department of Transportation. ‘Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles .’, available at
https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/ les/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles//preparing-future-
transportation-automated-vehicle-.pdf (most recently accessed on ..).
T. Liivak. ‘Liability of a Manufacturer of Fully Autonomous and Connected Vehicles under the Product Liability Directive’–
International Comparative Jurisprudence (), (), p. .
Council Directive //EEC of  July  on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provi-
sions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products (OJ L , .., pp. ). Also, Article  of
Directive //EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of July  on the framework for the deployment
of Intelligent Transport Systems in the eld of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport (OJ L ,
.., pp. ) makes an explicit reference to the PLD as a legal instrument that ought to be followed in the addressing
of liability issues related to deployment and use of intelligent transport system applications and services.

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