South Africa has plans for self-driving cars – but the law needs to change first

As part of a recent parliamentary Q&A session minister of transport, Blade Nzimande, was asked about South Africa’s stance on driverless cars.

Nzimande said that there are currently no self-driving cars on the country’s roads, but that government has plans for their introduction.

“Yes, there are plans but not in the immediate due to policy and legislative amendments that would need to take place to bring about this realisation,” he said.

However, South Africa has already made itself clear on the idea of testing in the country – even if firm laws are not necessarily in place.

Speaking to MyBroadband in April 2018, the Department of Transport said that vehicles in the country that cannot be operated without a driver onboard.

“We allow for the process of motor vehicle testing in the republic, as long as it is going to be conducted in the manner that does not endanger other road users,” said the department.

“The operation of motor vehicles on a public road is governed by the National Road Traffic Act and its regulations, and there is currently no regulation regarding the operation of self-driving vehicles in South Africa.”

A possible way forward?

South Africa is not the only country battling with a driver-less future – with everything from insurance to logistics currently being considered by a number of countries.

It may ultimately be this legislation developed by other countries that inform South Africa’s stance on self-driving cars.

In July 2018 the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act officially became law in the UK.

Under the law, a vehicle is considered to be ‘driving itself’ if it is operating in a mode in which it is not being controlled, and does not need to be monitored, by an individual. If it is being monitored or controlled, ordinary principles of negligence will presumably apply.

According to UK legal firm BPE under the Act, an automated vehicle is a vehicle which can safely and legally drive itself, in at least some circumstances. It is also worth noting that this section only applies to Great Britain, instead of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Other main considerations include:

  • The basic premise is, where the vehicle is insured, and it is involved in an accident in Great Britain, the liability shall lie with the insurer. If it is not properly insured, the owner is liable;
  • The owner or insurer is not liable where the person in charge of vehicle (if different from the owner) was negligent in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so. Unfortunately, the Act provides no further guidance about when would and would not be an appropriate time to let an automated vehicle drive itself;
  • Insurers may exclude or limit liability if the accident occurred as a direct result of either prohibited software alterations or a failure to install safety-critical software updates. Insurers are also able to recover insurance pay-outs in these circumstances where it is provided for in the insurance policy.

Read: Here’s how well electric cars are doing in South Africa

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South Africa has plans for self-driving cars – but the law needs to change first