Birmingham lawyers Clarke Willmott LLP, who set up a specialist team to look at the implications of driverless car technologies earlier this month, said a fatal accident involving a Tesla vehicle in Florida has sounded warnings for the fast developing industry. An inquiry into the accident, the first known fatality involving self-drive cars, has begun and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said preliminary reports indicated the crash happened when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes.

While investigations continue the team at Clarke Wilmott said the UK will be looking closely at the implications of the crash, which resulted in the first known death involving a driverless car.

Partner Chris Thorne said: “The prime motivation behind developing these vehicles is safety so it is tragic that this incident has happened during development. Although our first thoughts are with the pioneering driver and his family and friends, driverless car technology has the potential to eradicate or significantly reduce deaths and injuries on all our roads and highways.

“Our team has been working on the legal implications of driverless cars for some time now. There is such a range of potential areas of legal interest, but an accident like that announced by Tesla brings into sharp focus the challenges faced by all new technologies.

Clarke Willmott has set up a multi-disciplinary team to look into the legal implications of driverless car technology in the UK with lawyers from Bristol, Birmingham and Taunton.

Partner Philip Edwards said: “Existing in-car technology including self-parking systems, cruise control, lane departure warning and intelligent braking programmes are creating whole new territories which remain to be decided in law.

 “Pivotal advances in technology such as this have in the past required constant refinement and improvements before they became safe and accepted. They also make actions possible that were not before, and that has legal implications.

“While self-drive cars could bring long term benefits in terms of safety, reduced emissions and even social mobility legal protocols will need to be put in place capable of being tested in the courts at all levels.”