Autonomous cars not allowed, ICBC says

November 28th, 2019  |  Auto

Tesla’s new driverless car feature has prompted a warning by B.C.’s insurer that it could negate coverage in the event of an accident.

ICBC released a statement recently saying an incident captured on video by a Richmond News reader - which showed a driverless Tesla coasting on the wrong side of the road in a shopping centre parking lot before stopping for a man that appeared to be waiting for it - is not permitted under B.C. laws.

Startled witnesses recorded the scene which also depicted a security guard trying to catch up to the car on foot. The car – travelling at the speed of a brisk walk - finally stopped after a man, believed to be a friend of the owner, appeared.

Had the Tesla - which was understood to be "summoned" via a mobile app by the owner up to 200 feet away - crashed, ICBC said the vehicle owner’s insurance "may not have provided coverage."

"We’re actively monitoring the development of autonomous vehicle technology here in B.C. and in other jurisdictions," the statement added, according to the Richmond News.

"This is an emerging field that raises questions in regards to both safety and policy. Currently, B.C. laws do not permit driverless vehicles on our roads. A vehicle being driven autonomously in a shopping mall parking lot, for example, is not allowed. The driver is responsible for the operation of the vehicle including when driver assistance is activated."

The Ministry of Transportation says the vehicles are also illegal for import. Teslas on the road there were already in the country when the feature was enabled.

The province’s Ministry of Transportation says it's formed a workgroup to deal with autonomous vehicles and that it’s up to police jurisdictions to enforce the law

The vehicle was using a feature called "Smart Summon" that Tesla quietly rolled out in Canada in Oct. 11. Activated via a smartphone app, the company’s website says: “With Smart Summon, your car will navigate more complex environments and parking spaces, maneuvering around objects as necessary to come find you in a parking lot.”

However, according to the Richmond News, it doesn’t appear as if the owner read the instructions properly, as the driverless car entered the lot on the completely wrong side of an intersection and continued for at least 50 yards on the wrong side of the road.

According to the company, users can push a button in the Tesla app, directing the vehicle “to navigate a parking lot and come to them or their destination of choice, as long as their car is within their line of sight.” The feature has been the subject of numerous videos on social media and YouTube recently, with users testing its accuracy with varying results.

“We’re going to have to change our laws,” said personal injury lawyer Renn Holness, said in an interview with CTV News.

Holness said at the moment, manufacturers are not responsible for any crashes, injuries or damages, but if the vehicle’s creator is controlling its movement, the law should change to reflect that. Holness also points out Tesla needs a huge amount of testing to update and establish the software as safe.

He suggests until legislation is updated with clear guidelines for insurance coverage, Tesla drivers should err on the side of caution.

"My advice is to disable the feature and only use the feature if you're on your own private property,” he told CTV. “If you're anywhere where there's an expectation of the public could be present, you're endangering the public and potentially you may, as an owner, be responsible."

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