With the advent of self-driving cars, suddenly, it seems we’re not so far from the futuristic days we imagined when we watched those Jetsons cartoons.
But what we’re talking about here isn’t mere science fiction. It’s a complete paradigm shift. Just think about all the laws that become irrelevant when cars drive themselves. Will we really need those speed traps on Interstate 45? Probably not.
But as some laws become irrelevant, others emerge that we may (or may not) have seen coming.
Here are five ways self-driving cars will change our road laws.
1. Cybersecurity Must Be Addressed
It hasn’t been long since the first self-driving vehicle hit the streets, but we’ve already seen class-action lawsuits related to cybersecurity in these smart vehicles.
In Cahn v. Toyota Motor Corp., plaintiffs in the Northern District of California filed claims against three connected (or smart) car manufacturers, alleging their cars were equipped with technology that was susceptible to third-party attacks.
Ultimately, the court dismissed this case, but it leaves many questions. For example, what happens if a hacker is responsible for an accident-related injury or fatality?
As you might imagine, cybersecurity is likely the biggest threat to self-driving vehicles because the risks are obvious, and the stakes are high. Not only could a third party access someone’s driving record and sensitive information, but they could potentially take control of the vehicle itself. This could result in immense damage to persons or property.
Autonomous vehicles introduce a new sense of urgency when it comes to hacking risk. Could an autonomous car be hacked to usher you into unsafe circumstances? Could it malfunction and put pedestrians at risk? And if so, who is to blame?
In reality, regulations governing automotive cybersecurity are still in their infancy. To date, at the federal level, we’ve seen the 2015 SPY Car Act and the 2017 SPY Car Act emerge, proposing that manufacturers adhere to standard security measures, from supply chains to data privacy and protection.
Both bills failed to progress, and the 2019 SPY Car Act was introduced last month, which appears to have been built upon the previous acts introduced. There likely will be more attempts to introduce similar legislation, but it’s unlikely Congress will act on them in the near future.
In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Highway Administration have been releasing guidelines and best practices for U.S. manufacturers since 2016.
Cybersecurity should not only be at the top of mind for any automakers, but it also should be closely regulated to ensure the safety of the public. Again, the stakes are much higher with autonomous vehicles than with cybersecurity on typical technology devices.
2. Federal Laws Must Govern HAVs
Somewhat surprisingly, HAVs are on the road, yet we don’t yet have federal laws to govern their use. The state of Arizona has been at the forefront of self-driving technology, but events there also shine a light on the fact the industry needs regulation.
After an autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, it’s clear that these vehicles need enhanced safety regulations and laws governing their use.
The Institute for Automated Mobility (IAM), overseen by the Arizona Commerce Authority, is making headway in this area, but this organization cannot replace federal regulation.
3. State Regulations Will Become More Prevalent
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), as of now, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles. Governors in 11 states, including Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.
This leaves 10 states in the U.S. that have yet to pass legislation that addresses autonomous vehicles. And without current federal laws, this leaves much of the country like the “wild west” of autonomous vehicles. Anything goes.
4. Complete Automation May Be Allowed
We’ve seen from Google’s self-driving sister organization Waymo that completely automated vehicles that lack a human operator are the next phase of automated vehicles.
Currently, Waymo’s fleet of fully automated vehicles has only launched in Phoenix, but we can guess that other states won’t be far behind. In fact, California has already approved new rules to permit self-driving vehicles.
To be clear, unlike the Uber that struck a pedestrian in Tempe, these will be fully automated vehicles that do not require a human driver. No licensed driver is required on board to drive the streets.
5. The FCC May Adjust the Automotive-Designated Spectrum
The spectrum they had previously designated for automotive use has been underutilized, leaving tech companies begging for a share of the uneaten pie. But now that automakers are producing vehicles that may make use of the automotive-designated spectrum, we could find ourselves in a conundrum.
It is clear that lives will depend on the technologies of automated vehicles, and some of those tools will access and possibly require Wi-Fi. What we’re looking at now is a collision of the two industries in a battle over radio space, and it could present some interesting legal challenges.
As we see self-driving car developments unfolding quickly, it becomes increasingly obvious that we’re lacking in legislation to govern their production and use. In a world where your car could get hacked and become a weapon of mass destruction, we as drivers need some peace of mind and protection.
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