Cars are being fitted with ever more sophisticated parking and safety aids, so, can a driver blame the manufacturer if the parking sensors fail and I crash?

A reader asks:

“What is your opinion on the liability for an accident with all the driver aids being offered on a car. For example, if you are using the park assist and the thing fails like all software will and you run your VW into a Maserati, who is liable? Has this been tested in a court yet?”

We put the question to Michael Coldham, a lawyer specialising in this subject:

“The answer is even with all mod cons you the driver are responsible to any third party for your negligence in the driving management and control of your vehicle.

As with all things mechanical the federal trade practices act gives a right of action for breach of contract or sale of faulty goods so it could be that an action lies against the seller.”

Michael R Coldham & Associates was established in 1977 and offers specialised legal services for motor vehicle accidents, debt recovery, conveyancing, small business matters, civil disputes and wills.  The principal, Michael Coldham, has also held positions on various boards and served for several years as president of 4WD Victoria, President of the Victorian Ski Association and the Chair of the Kerang Business Council.

This answer is provided on an as-is basis and readers must consult their own laywers for advice specific to their circumstances.

Practical Motoring says:

The question about being able to blame manufacturers for crashes comes up time and time again, especially now we have many driving aids, and driverless cars are nearly here.

To some extent the question has been around for decades.  What if the brakes fail on a car, or the throttle is stuck?  The answer there is whether or not the car had been properly maintained (mechanic’s fault), operated (driver’s fault) or if there was some inherent design flaw (manufacturer’s fault).  For example, take a car to a racetrack and run it hard, then find you can’t stop…your fault.  If your mechanic fails to tighten the caliper bolts – his/her fault.  But if there’s some basic issue such as brake line splitting open on a reasonably new car even though the car was maintained and operated correctly then that’s the manufacturer’s fault.

But driving aids – active cruise control, AEB, reversing aids and the like – are a bit different, because they’re helping the driver, not just controls to operate.  The key point here is “aid”.  Every single one of these aids carries a disclaimer saying you the driver are responsible. There are extensive lists of circumstances in which the aids may not work, and reminders you need to check independently.

If the manufacturers said “yes, you the driver need do nothing, our systems take care of it all” then they would be liable.  But they don’t, and won’t.

In 2015 you the driver still need to take responsibility for your own actions, and driver aids are exactly that, aids.




Compared: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk vs Mitsubishi Outlander vs Subaru Forester vs Suzuki Grand Vitara


McLaren GT confirms Aussie racer line-up for Bathurst 12-Hour

1 comment

  1. If you look at the top photo image it shows the cars internal reverse-camera screen, with the words…”check surroundings for safety” as part of the display…..those words ensure that liability stays with the driver. .the ‘Driver’ is always responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle…that’s one of the conditions you agree to when obtaining a drivers-licence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also