In terms of civil liability, French legislation does not provide for specific provisions concerning accidents involving AVs. Therefore, the general legislation applicable to vehicles, (the Law n°85-677 of 5 July 1985 referred to as “Badinter” Law), applies to AVs.
Similarly, general rules applicable to defective products liability or vehicle insurance obligations may apply to AVs.
The Badinter law provides for a system of liability without fault allowing for certain and rapid compensation of victims of traffic accidents (covering both physical and material damages). Every owner of a vehicle must take out compulsory civil liability insurance to cover damage for any injured party caused by him or by a person using the vehicle. After compensation, a case-by-case examination makes it possible to determine the sharing of liabilities between the persons involved in the accident and possibly including third parties (manufacturer, equipment manufacturer, software supplier, other vehicles, infrastructure, etc.).
In terms of criminal liability, the “Pacte” Law deals with criminal liability in the event of an accident occurring during the testing of AVs.
In principle, the driver of a vehicle shall be liable for offences committed while driving the vehicle. However, the driver will not be held liable when the driving delegation system has been activated in accordance with its conditions of use and when it is in operation. In this case, the responsibility of the driver is transferred to the holder of the experimental authorisation.
If the use of such a vehicle with partial or total delegation has caused an accident resulting in bodily injury, the holder of the experimental authorisation will be liable for offences of involuntary injury to the life or integrity of the person when it is established that there is a fault (within the meaning of Article 121-3 of the French Criminal Code) in the implementation of the system of delegation of conduct. This concept of “fault” may include deliberate fault as well as recklessness, negligence or failure to observe an obligation of due care or precaution imposed by any statute or regulation, where it is established that the offender has failed to show normal diligence, taking into consideration, where appropriate, the nature of his role or functions, his capacities and powers and the means then available to him. In this case, the offender who has not directly contributed to causing the damage, but who has created or contributed to the situation, which allowed the damage to happen and who failed to take steps enabling it to be avoided, is criminally liable where it is shown that he has broken a duty of care or precaution laid down by statute or regulation in a manifestly deliberate manner, or has committed a specified piece of misconduct, which exposed another person to a particularly serious risk of which he must has been aware.
Art 31 of the LOM has recently opened to the government the possibility to adopt within 24 months from the promulgation of the law (i.e. until 23 December 2021) an ordinance, which should adapt French legislation (in particular, the highway code) to the case of the circulation on public roads of AVs and define a new applicable liability regime.
For the sale or lease of AVs, provision may be made to require appropriate information or training for the driver prior to the provision of such vehicles equipped with delegation of driving.