The term “Autonomous Vehicle” was newly defined in the Motor Vehicle Management Act, which was amended on August 11, 2015. Pursuant to the new provisions on autonomous vehicles, the issuance of permits for temporary operation of such vehicles became possible for test runs and research purposes. Moreover, there was a driving demonstration for autonomous vehicles in the “Future Growth Engine Challenge Parade,” which was jointly hosted by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs on November 22, 2015. As the government disclosed its ambition to reach commercialization of autonomous vehicles in 2020 by subsidizing the development of autonomous vehicles and establishment of the necessary infrastructure thereof, it is imminent that autonomous vehicles will become part of our daily lives.

Autonomous vehicles involve several legal issues including: (1) intellectual property rights in connection with the Vehicle Position Indicators (VPI) and Directive technologies; (2) personal and/or location information pursuant to the collection and use of (personal) location information; (3) Internet of Things related to the communications between autonomous vehicles; and (4) other legal issues in connection with driving license, operational issues, accident liability and insurance of autonomous vehicles. The present newsletter will examine a select number of legal issues regarding item (4) above.

First, if an accident was caused by an autonomous vehicle, whether the owner or driver of the vehicle has to burden the driver’s liability pursuant to the Guarantee of Automobile Accident Compensation Act, even if such owner or driver was not actually involved in the driving of the vehicle, can become an issue. However, Article 3 of the foregoing Act provides: “Where any person who operates a vehicle for personal use has killed or injured another person by such operation, he/she shall be liable to compensate the damages therefrom.” Additionally, since the foregoing liability falls under a strict liability rather than a tort liability (Supreme Court, Decision No. 97Da52653 rendered on July 10, 1998), the owner or driver of the autonomous vehicle may still be liable as the operator of the vehicle.

Next, whether the liability to compensate damages from operation of autonomous vehicle can be transferred from the operator to the manufacturer is another disputed issue. However, since Article 6 of the Product Liability Act provides that “any special agreement intended to exclude or limit any liability for damages under this Act shall be null and void,” it appears that a manufacturer would not be able to retransfer the liability to compensate damages from operation of autonomous vehicle back to the purchaser through an agreement or terms and conditions agreed between the parties.

Furthermore, although the occupational negligent homicide or injury charge pursuant to Article 268 of the Criminal Code and Article 3 of the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Settlement of Traffic Accidents or the occupational negligent damage to property from operation of motor vehicle charge pursuant to Article 151 of the Road Traffic Act are applicable to autonomous vehicles, all the foregoing criminal charges are premised on the existence of driver’s duty of care. Therefore, the appropriateness of applying the foregoing provisions to the operation of autonomous vehicles for which driver’s duty of care may be exempt is controversial.

Commercialization of autonomous vehicles is now a reality. In order to play a leading role in guiding and safely establishing the new industry of autonomous vehicles, legal and systematic reorganizations along with technological development have to first be implemented. Therefore, the continuous interest is required, not only from the industry world, but also from the expert groups.