Council of Europe: Legal aspects of “autonomous” vehicles

On October 22, 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) adopted a provisional version of Resolution 2356 (2020) Legal aspects of “autonomous” vehicles, based on the work of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (see Doc.15143, a report from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and also Recommendation 2187 (2020)).

The Parliamentary Assembly highlights the growing development of semi-autonomous vehicles and the dawn of a new age of completely autonomous vehicles. Facing this emerging issue, the Assembly comments on a number of different legal areas: civil, criminal and product liability; the obligations imposed on manufacturers and insurers; the future regulation of road transport; ethical and privacy concerns.

For instance, with regard to the question of criminal liability, the Parliamentary Assembly stresses that it might be necessary to adopt “new approaches to apportioning criminal liability, or alternatives to criminal liability in cases where no human can reasonably be held responsible”. Concerning civil liability, it might “require new approaches, such as strict liability, to ensure that injured parties receive compensation for the damages they suffer.” Finally, in terms of product liability, future regulations must “not leave lacunae in this respect”.

With regard to the ethical issues raised by these emerging vehicles, the Parliamentary Assembly stresses that automated driving systems (ADS) will have to make the same decisions as humans, “but according to an ethical framework defined by their manufacturer”. There would therefore “be a need for government regulation to standardise the ethical choices implicit in ADS design, to ensure compatibility with the general public interest”. Concerning the data from autonomous vehicles, it will be “needed to ensure a correct balance between data processing that is necessary for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles and respect for and protection of the privacy of drivers, passengers and other users”.

Finally, the Assembly calls on: 

  • “the member States of the Council of Europe to ensure that the criminal law, civil law and human rights implications of the development and introduction of autonomous vehicles are regulated in accordance with Council of Europe standards on human rights and the rule of law, including respect for the right to life, privacy and the principle of legal certainty;
  • the GRVA to conduct a human rights impact assessment as part of its preparatory work on future regulation of autonomous vehicles, as part of a general, comprehensive framework for ensuring that safety in all its forms is maximised during future development and production of autonomous vehicles;
  • the CDPC to ensure that possible lacunae in the applicability of criminal law to the operation of autonomous vehicles are identified and addressed; 
  • the CAHAI to pay particular attention to the application of AI in ADS, where there is a particular risk of adverse consequences for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, in its mapping of the risks and opportunities of AI and its examination of the feasibility of a legal framework”.


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