Autonomous cars or driverless cars (or smart cars) are advanced technologies that are at present not a common idea in South Africa. Other jurisdictions have dealt with this issue in legislation, but South Africa has not addressed it yet.

US Response

Google has been at the forefront of introducing driverless cars. In 2010, they announced that they would be working on self-driving cars and since then their cars have made over 1 000 000 km without a single incident. As of 2015, 4 US states have passed laws regulating driverless cars specifically to permit testing of automated vehicles within their states.

Europe’s Response to driverless cars

The UK government will publish a code of practice later in the year. The code will allow the testing of driverless cars. The UK government has also promised a full review of current legislation by the summer of 2017. In continental Europe, only Germany and Sweden have reviewed their legislation in this regard.

Factors to consider

Although these international inroads are slow, South Africa has not put forth anything regarding driverless cars. Should the issue be addressed, we suggest a comprehensive review of the current transport legislation as the first step. This will likely be a long process. Another important hurdle would be figuring out the insurance implications in the context of driverless cars. Insurance companies have already begun assessing the impact driverless cars will have on them. We see third party claims as a potential big issue for insurance companies. There is no human driving the car so could the owner of the vehicle still be sued for the accident? Also we see calculating risk premiums as a big issue. It would involve new criteria since you can’t use the traditional factors like age and having a driver’s licence to calculate these premiums.

So with all this in mind, South African legislators will have lots of issues to deal with when they finally join the driverless cars conversation. We suggest using foreign jurisdictions as guides in developing South African law on driverless cars.

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