Laws in the driverless future: what to expect – Board of Innovation

Governments collect a fair chunk of change from traffic tickets. But in a fully autonomous vehicle future, the car becomes the de-facto driver, therefore controlling the speed at which the car travels, whether it stops at a traffic light, or makes an illegal turn. Most of the current traffic violations will no longer be relevant because the car’s technology will not allow for tailgating or failing to signal or stop at a crosswalk. But while federal budgets will be gauged from the loss of, say, hefty drunk driving fines, they will be able to make up for it in fewer traffic police salary payments.

When and if traffic violations do still happen — for example, if the car’s system bugs — it will be tricky to assign fault. It seems unlikely that Audi‘s accounts department will receive a steady stream of speeding tickets from the government. More likely, the “driver/passenger” will get the bill and have to take it up with the car manufacturer. Fully autonomous vehicles means the end of U-turns and recklessly crossing three traffic lanes. This will certainly cut down on road rage toward other drivers, and hopefully doesn’t result in rage against the machine as the technology is in its early stages — not getting people to their destination fast enough or doing what they want the car to do.

We will see an elimination of laws against driving without shoes or driving while using a cell phones in the long-term. However, if Huawei‘s driverless technology trials are anything to go by, there could be an increase in the number of tickets issued for impaired driving and using cell phones in the short-term. The company’s driverless system is being designed to call the police if it detects the driver is drunk or texting. This tech would only being used in cars whose driverless features can be disabled, of course.

Other laws will be certainly grandfathered, but will probably do so on a case-by-case basis.

There will likely be more government regulation around vehicle inspections for fully automated vehicles. The safety software will need to be validated more frequently than the current 2-3 year timeframe of cars today. Cars will also need to be monitored even more often by the manufacturer to comply with insurance and liability. Then there is the wildcard of cybersecurity, which will remain a niche area but will nonetheless need to be taken into account.

In the event of a major crash, just as a plane has a black box that determines the cause of accident, a car will also be equipped with one. This could lead to lengthier legal investigations than there are now. It’s also a trickier issue to determine who is to blame for the defective product – driver, owner, seller, repairer, component supplier, data provider, car manufacturer. This, and other safety concerns, are what is currently holding up lawmakers in several parliaments.

An overlooked consideration is what the roads will look like when some cars are fully automated and others are still 100% human driven. In an accident between a driverless car and a human-controlled one, will insurance companies be biased against human error and favour the driverless car owner?

Regulation around autonomous vehicles will very much depend from country to country. The US is already rewriting its safety laws in a pro-business move to get driverless cars on the road faster. Companies in the US have faced almost no obstacles from the federal government in getting fully automated transportation up and running, something that has safety advocates up in arms. Likewise, the current approach of the UK government is to remain flexible and develop an appropriate response based on the existing principles of product liability.