Wed | Feb 1, 2023

Insurance Helpline | Risky robot rides

Published:Friday | December 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMCedric Stephens
In this 2007 file photo, an investor from the police's Accident Reconstruction Unit takes a photograph of this car that crashed into a fence in Kingston. The car was said to be racing another taxi at the time of the accident.

Owners and operators of regular taxi services (red plates) who send white plates (robot taxis) "to the gates of passengers" even while acknowledging the dangers posed to those persons who use these services are being very foolish.

In the event of motor vehicle accidents, where the robot taxi drivers were careless, owners and operators of the regular taxi services will be at risk.

At best, these could result in thousands of dollars in legal costs. At worst, they could involve compensation claims that run into millions of dollars. Those costs would not be recoverable from motor insurers.

Compliance with Transport Authority regulations is only one of many features of an efficient and profitable transportation system. Prudent regular taxi operators should, ideally, know about many things. These include The Road Traffic Act and regulations, motor vehicle insurance, basic legal principles, and how to safely operate and maintain vehicles.

According to an article published in this newspaper on December 6, red plate operators are accepting business risks about which they know absolutely zilch.




Ignorantia juris non excusat is a Latin phrase. It means: "Ignorance of the law excuses not." According to one source, "it is well settled (law) that persons engaged in any undertakings outside what is common for a normal person ... will make themselves aware of the laws necessary to engage in that undertaking. If they do not, they cannot complain if they incur liability."

In the case of the owners and operators of 'red plates', they should not complain if they were to incur liability because of the carelessness of a robot taxi operator who caused injuries to a passenger that they were sent to pick up by owners or operators of regular taxis. The dangers of these types of arrangements are not limited to passengers as any first-year law student would know.

Robot taxi operators who are sent by owners and operators of regular taxi services to transport passengers would be regarded in law as agents of the regular taxi operators. The latter would be principals.

Agency is an indispensable part of modern life. The law of agency is that section of the discipline of law that deals exclusively with the principal-agent connection.

A "foundational principle of agency law," according to one legal scholar, "is that the principal, who has chosen to conduct his/her business through an agent, must bear the foreseeable consequences created by that choice".

Arguments by the red plate taxis operators that are designed to lay the blame at the feet of the Transport Authority for the risks that are created by the red plate-white plate agreement, (formal or informal), or attempts to pass the risks on to unsuspecting commuters are, therefore, unlikely to succeed in a court of law.

Robot taxi operators who buy motor insurance are invariably less than honest when they enter into contractual agreements with insurance companies. They lead insurers to believe that their vehicles will not be used to carry fare-paying passengers on a regular basis.

Further, they fail to describe their business or occupation as taxi drivers.

Contracts of insurance entered into on the basis of falsehoods on the part of buyers are not worth the paper on which they are written. Unsuspecting fare-paying passengers, pedestrians or other road users who suffer injuries as a result of the negligence of robot taxi operators are, therefore, unlikely to get compensation from insurers in spite of the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party) Risks law. The actions of the police to remove robot taxis from the roads should be understood in this context.

Owners and operators of regular taxi services (red plates) who send white plates (robot taxis) "to the gates of passengers" are actively participating in a scheme to break the law, and at the same time, are placing their businesses at risk.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to