The speed at which autonomy has developed has made it challenging to regulate. In 2017, the US Congress started to debate the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act, a draft legislation aimed, among others, at transferring jurisdiction over autonomous vehicle testing from American states to the federal government. Furthermore, the SELF DRIVE Act would grant the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) full control over autonomous vehicle design and construction, requiring the body to propose a series of autonomous safety guidelines within two years. Importantly, the legislation would mandate that autonomous vehicle manufacturers have a ‘privacy plan’ that details all potential uses for passenger data. Currently, the NHTSA can authorise 2500 autonomous vehicles for testing annually, but the SELF DRIVE Act raises the ceiling to 100 000 vehicles after four years. Still, the legislation has only been ratified by the House of Representatives; as of June 2018, the bill still needs the Senate’s support.
Despite the lack of consensus in the US Congress, states have introduced – or are working on introducing – their own legislations governing the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. For example, in April 2018, California started processing applications for driverless vehicle testing permits up to level 4 of autonomy. In order to qualify for a permit, an autonomous vehicle must be able to resist cyberattacks, operate only within specific regions of a city, and come equipped with a form of two-way communication, as adjudicated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CADMV). In March 2018, Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order in Arizona, outlining the conditions under which autonomous vehicles could be tested and operated on public roads. Some of these conditions include: the automated driving system behind the vehicle being in compliance with the applicable federal law and motor vehicle safety standards; if a failure of the automated driving system occurs, the vehicle will achieve a minimal risk condition; the vehicle complies with all applicable traffic and safety laws and regulations of Arizona, and it meets all applicable certificate, title registration, licensing, and insurance requirements.
In the European Union (EU), Germany has been a trailblaser in autonomous vehicle policy on account of its important automotive sector. As of 2017, Germany has a law in place that allows the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads, under certain conditions. Among them is the obligation of having a safety driver behind the wheel, to be able to take control of the car if needed. The legislation is to be revised in 2019, in light of technological developments. The current legislation does not legalise level 5 fully autonomous vehicles, but provides a deeper ecosystem for testing within German borders.
In the UK, the government announced in March 2018, that it had commissioned a review of driving laws 'to ensure that the UK remains one of the best places in the world to develop, test and drive self-driving vehicles'. The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission will conduct a three-year review into existing driving legislation, to identify 'any legal obstacles to the widespread introduction of self-driving vehicles and highlight the need for regulatory reforms'. Some of the questions to be examined as part of the review include: who the ‘driver’ or responsible person is; how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is some shared control in a human-machine interface; the role of automated vehicles within public transport networks and emerging platforms for on-demand passenger transport, car sharing and new business models providing mobility as a service; whether there is a need for new criminal offences to deal with novel types of conduct and interference; and what the impact on other road users is, and how they can be protected from risk.
In May 2018, the European Commission presented a communication entitled ‘On the road to automated mobility: An EU strategy for the mobility of the future’, outlining a set of action points aimed at achieving the EU's ambition of becoming 'a world leader in the deployment of connected and automated mobility'. The Commission notes that current EU legislation is largely suitable to allow automated and connected vehicles to be put on the market, but that new regulatory changes would be needed to create a 'harmonised, complete and future-proof framework for automation'. Other areas of focus outlined in the communication include: (a) Allocating investments in technologies and infrastructure for automated mobility; (b) Ensuring an internal market for the safe take-up of automated mobility (by elaborating guidelines for a harmonised approach to automated vehicle safety assessments, for example); (c) Proposing new safety features for automated vehicles (by amending current regulations and directives on motor vehicle and road infrastructure safety); (d) Addressing liability issues, ensuring cybersecurity, data protection and data access; and (e) Exploring the implications of automated mobility on society and the economy (with a view to determining whether regulatory measures are needed to address the possible negative impacts).
The USA and Europe are hardly the only ones paying increasing attention to the ongoing developments in the field of autonomous vehicles. China is taking action to keep pace with other countries which support the development of self-driving vehicles, and, in April 2018, it introduced national guidelines for the the testing of such vehicles on public roads. One of the key requirements is that the test vehicles must always have a safety driver on board to be able to take control in unforeseen circumstances. These national rules come to complement guidelines already announced at the local level, in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Future Foundation and Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority launched the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy, in March 2018, with the overall objective of transforming 25% of the total transportation in Dubai to autonomous mode by 2030. The strategy will include, among others, the elaboration of specific legislation for the development of autonomous transportation, as well as the establishment of dedicated infrastructures for the new technologies.
In Japan, the testing of automated vehicles on public roads is done in line with guidelines adopted by the National Police Agency, which has recently created an expert panel to discuss and propose rules for autonomous vehicles, including in terms of penalties for accidents and traffic law violations involving level 3 and 4 autonomous vehicles. There are also plans for specific legislation to be proposed to the country’s legislative body by 2019.
In Australia, the government is planning to introduce a uniform regulatory approach towards autonomous cars, and national legislation in this regard is to be adopted by 2020. A policy paper published by the National Transport Commission in May 2018 outlines several recommendations for this legislative reform to ‘provide clarity about the situations when an automated driving system (ADS), rather than a human driver, may drive a vehicle; ensure there is a legal entity that can be held responsible for the operation of the automated driving system; establish any new legal obligations that may be required for users of automated vehicles’.