If you were around in the 80’s the thought of flying cars in those days was probably something you could only relate to from watching science-fiction movies like “Back to the Future“. Produced between 1985 to 1990 and featuring renowned actors like Michael J. Fox (Portraying a teenager called Marty McFly) and Christopher Lloyd (Portraying an eccentric scientist called Dr Emmett “Doc” Brown), the movie told a story about a time travelling car called a DMC DeLorean that had been modified by Doc Brown and which Marty used to travel through space and time with dates ranging from 1885 to 2015. In Part II of the movie series, the DeLorean made a stopover in the future on the 21st of October 2015 and during that time had a “Hover Conversion” which enabled it to fly. Back in 1985, watching that and imagining a car flying for the first time might have seemed totally ridiculous, but fast-forwarding to 2019, the movie’s creators were probably not that far off with their predictions.
One of the most recent developments in 2018 was an announcement made by global transport giant UBER, that it plans to launch a flying taxi service by 2023 called UBERAIR. The list of countries UBERAIR hopes to narrow down to launch their flying taxi services include Japan and the cities of Tokyo and Osaka; India with Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore; Australia in Melbourne or Sydney; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Paris. Further to this, motor vehicle companies like Volvo, Geely, CEVT and Lotus are already working on personal flying cars together with MIT graduates to produce the Terrafugia model which will be computer operated and use a hybrid-electric motor so it is environmentally-friendly. The PAL-V Liberty is another model already selling examples priced from €299,000 (around £254,000) before taxes.
Although this technology is still evolving internationally, there is little evidence to believe that flying cars won’t one day become a norm in South Africa too. Considering them from a legal perspective, various pieces of legislation in our country may take immediate effect including the Road Accident Fund Act, the Civil Aviation Act, and the Consumer Protection Act which deals with product liability. If there were any other pieces of legislation that would be impacted, they would likely be promulgated in the form of general amendments.
In the future, the Road Accident Fund will have to be amended to at the very least make provision for a definition of what a motor vehicle is and particularly, whether “driving” in the air meets the requirements for indemnity.
Should the State fail to make this amendment then any accident which occurs as a result of the negligent “driving “ of a flying motor vehicle will not be indemnified by the State and private liability cover would have to be carried by each of the owners/drivers. In other words, was the accident caused by a car or an aircraft? Which Act does it fall under?
If an accident occurs as a result of a software malfunction both electronic, computer operation/error then it would be difficult for the clients to pursue the claim. For example, if the flying automobile was computer operated when it crashed, like in the case of the Volvo Terrafugia model, could it be perceived as a product liability claim in terms of the Consumer Protection Act? Is this a claim arising against the manufacturer, again making it a product liability claim or can this be something that the driver/owner becomes liable for? In the UK legislation has already been promulgated to that effect namely, that the owner/driver is liable but of course if he can show negligence on the part of the computer programmer or manufacturer he or she could, in turn, have a right to recover those damages accordingly.
As technology evolves, we can only continue to predict where the future is heading as we did back in the 80’s, however, since it doesn’t take long to follow in the footsteps of our developed global neighbours, exploring these types of amendments to current South African legislation will be important for the safety and security of citizens who will be travelling with them.