With technology developing all over the world, the latest being self-driving vehicles (“SDV”), South Africa must look at amending legislation before they hit our shores. A SDV is a motor vehicle which is considered to be ‘driving itself’; operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, or driven by a human. However, when looking at the above description of a SDV, several questions come to mind such as who and/or what is liable should an accident occur.
The National Road Traffic Act, 93 of 1996, defines a “driver” as being “any person who drives or attempts to drive any vehicle or who rides or attempts to ride any pedal cycle or who leads any draught, pack or saddle animal or herd or flock of animals, and “drive” or any like word has a corresponding meaning”. Based on this definition alone, it leaves SDV’s in a
legislative loophole.
In a recent accident in Houston, USA, which made headlines all over the world, two people were killed as a result of a Tesla SDV. The police found that no one was in the driver seat at the time of the accident. Currently, legal liability is based on whether one can prove that another person was to blame for the loss or injury for which compensation is being sought. However, if an accident occurs with a SDV, the question which arises is whether the manufacturers may or could be held liable as they would be “behind the wheel”.
The object of SDVs is to make driving statistically safer for humans, to manage traffic flow and reduce congestion, all in the hopes that it will reduce accidents that lead to serious injuries. This is all good and well for our roads, but South Africa needs to look at amending the relevant legislation sooner rather than later to ensure readiness once the first SDV hits the market.
Author: Delia Chamberlain