Autonomous cars: regulation and liability

haydn.thompson Friday August 18, 2017

The introduction of autonomous vehicles will occur in an incremental fashion as the regulatory environment develops. It will take time for the existing regulatory system to adapt to the introduction of autonomous transport. This is complicated by the uncertainty on what should be regulated and the risk that regulation may lock-in one pathway to automation over a potentially better one. While needed, early regulatory action carries risks as well. Some regulatory flexibility seems desirable, for instance putting in place regulation to cover certain use cases, e.g. to allow low speed urban operation or motorway platooning, in advance of defining a blanket set of rules for autonomous driving in the future. Policy makers should account for this uncertainty and be ready to adapt to changes. There are a number of legislative hurdles that need to be addressed before a 100% autonomous car in Europe is possible. One problem is the non-uniformity in laws to allow data to be obtained from infrastructure; in some European countries law does not allow communication between traffic lights and cars. Another issue deals with information on the speed of cars which could be potentially also be used for identifying speeding. The shifting the driving task from humans to machines will require changes in the insurance industry. Issues that need to be dealt with are how in the case of accidents responsibility should be apportioned among suppliers and sub-suppliers and what should victims have to do to get support for their loss and/or recovery (without long battles in court). Until the liability problem is solved, the manufacturers and designers of autonomous vehicles are hesitant to bring their products to the market. There is thus a need for a clear framework for legally handling the consequences of accidents with autonomous cars. However, adjudication methods have yet to be developed. So we need flexibility in regulation, harmonisation across Europe and clarification from the insurance industry. A lot to ask but all are key requirements if we are to see the successful roll out of autonomous cars on our roads.