Mercedes-Benz on liability accidents related to automated driving

Mercedes-Benz states that it will accept legal liability for collisions which occur in cars equipped with an “L3” automated lane keeping system, when they are directly caused by a fault in its technology, but not when the driver “failed in his duty to care”.

The Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system will allow German drivers to take their hands off the wheel and let the car take control.

This will initially be offered as an option on the S-Class and EQS in Germany. The automaker also plans to introduce the technology in the United States, once it is approved.

Matthew Avery, director of research strategy at Thatcham Research, says the news represents another important step on the road to automated driving, but the issue of liability in automated vehicles is “complex and nuanced”.

“It is too crude to suggest that the automaker should be responsible in all circumstances; there will be times when an accident is and is not the responsibility of the automaker,” he says.

“What is evident in the case of Mercedes, the first to have approved – albeit in Germany – a technology that will allow drivers to disengage and do something else, is that when the automated system is in control, the car manufacturer will be responsible.

“What is less simple is an accident that occurs when the driver has not “respected his duty of vigilance”, for example by refusing to take control of the car when asked to do so.

“It will be up to automakers to ensure that the drivers of their cars are confident, comfortable and have a good understanding of their legal responsibilities.

“Absolute clarity is required for drivers regarding their legal obligations behind the wheel and their understanding of how the system works, particularly when transferring the system to the driver.”

He adds: “This is challenged by the fact that it can take a long time for a driver to get back ‘into the loop’ after long periods of actual driving by the system. Insurance claims will require scrutiny, so providing data to help insurers understand who was in control of the vehicle at the time of the accident, the system or the driver, will also be vital.

“Trust will diminish if confusion reigns and lengthy lawsuits become common, impeding the adoption of technology and the realization of its many societal benefits.

“Fostering consumer confidence in early iterations of automated driving is paramount. This is where independent consumer review will have an important role to play in driving safe adoption by raising awareness of systems that are not as good as others.