28 Apr 2018

Bits+Bytes: How should NZ regulate driverless vehicles?

From Bits+Bytes, 12:45 pm on 28 April 2018
Car crossing Ginza

Photo: Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

Are New Zealand road users – and laws – ready for driverless cars?


The question has major implications for not just road users - be they drivers, cyclists or pedestrians - but also for police, parking wardens, councils and the people planning and designing parking spaces, towns, cities and roads.

A new study funded by the Law Foundation, Realising the potential of driverless vehicles for New Zealand, has investigated the need for legal reforms to cope with driverless vehicles here.

"By almost universal consensus, driverless vehicles are coming and represent as big a disruption to the transport sector as the replacement of horses with the automobile over a hundred years ago," study author Michael Cameron said.

As part of his research, Mr Cameron went to the US, Europe, Singapore and Australia reviewing international laws and visiting some of the big players designing driverless cars.

"Every jurisdiction across the world is now at a crossroads. Does it prioritise regulatory reform to allow driverless vehicles onto its roads as they become available? Or would it be better to take a slow and steady approach, even if that delays the introduction of driverless vehicles with all their hoped-for benefits?" Michael Cameron

Last month an SUV operated by Uber and with a so-called safety driver on board hit and killed a pedestrian pushing a bicycle across a road in Arizona.

The police released dashcam and in-car camera footage of the incident.


A core aspect of the legal debate around autonomous vehicles was around liability, Mr Cameron said.

“How vehicles get onto the road in the first place is a very complicated issue and once they’re on there who is going to pay for the damage if something goes wrong?

“Also if there’s a criminal offence committed – which could be quite a minor one – it could be a speeding one or a parking offence or it could be something quite serious, then who is liable?"

In the US it was likely to come down to the law of tort, negligence, and product liability.

The concept of product liability was not as new as it sounded, he said.

“If someone makes a product and says this car can drive on the road safely and it doesn’t and it causes damage, that’s arguably negligence and the person can claim.

“I think the same would happen in New Zealand, at least for property damage - with personal injury ACC puts New Zealand in a special case - but for property damage that would be the case.”