Most of us have seen and maybe even envied the use of self-driving cars in movies or television shows ranging from the Batmobile in Batman, Herbie, I, Robot and K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.

At the 2017 Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Annual Meeting, one panel took a look the emerging laws and public policy surrounding self-driving cars. The panelists included: Kelly Kay, chief operating and safety officer, Toyota Research Institute; Tim Lynch, vice president and associate general counsel, Aspen Insurance Holdings Ltd.; and Mike Nelson, partner, Eversheds Sutherland.

The session opened with several questions such as, “How much do the rules of the road have to change?” and “Is there a difference between connected cars and automated driving?”

But before we start thinking too deeply about watching a movie rather than having our hands on the wheel on our way home from work, it’s important to understand what is and is not considered a self-driving car?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted the SAE International – a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries – levels of automation for defining on-road motor vehicles. Below is a chart defining the various levels of automation for vehicles.


Regarding the rules of the road, the panel noted there are three rules to the road for drivers. First, stay on the road. Second, don’t hit anything. And third, don’t get hit. Pretty simple. But the challenge is making sure the technology in this space understands and is able to implement these principles.

In addition, there are rules we must follow when on the road to help keep everyone safe. Those rules come from the federal government, state governments, government and regulatory agencies, insurance groups and more. These rules and requirements are in place to help manage the more than 4 million total road miles in the U.S. alone.

The panel noted these entities form the standards, along with the auto manufacturers, that must be followed. Noting that approximately 94 percent of automobile accidents are caused by human error, most industry experts agree that implementing self-driving cars will make the roads safer. The panel then asked the room that if the standards surrounding self-driving and autonomous vehicles are so stringent to meet perfection, are we hurting ourselves by strict regulation instead of putting these vehicles on the road and improving safety?

Obviously safety is the key point of this discussion, but another element surrounds privacy and the data the cars will/do collect. There is tension revolving around who owns the data? How the data is collected and stored? How can the data be used? Can the data be extracted to determine fault in an accident? Additionally, as data is a powerful form of currency, there are safety questions around hacking to steal the data or even take control of the vehicle(s) themselves. And then those questions are likely answered differently depending  on where you are in the world.

When will all of this happen? Some of it already has begun, others foresee change in the near future, while others are skeptical autonomous cars will dominate the road at all. Obviously many companies are researching, building and selling vehicles that employ technological advances in the self-driving and autonomous space. But ultimately the consumer market will dictate when this will be fully implemented.


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