The arrival of autonomous cars will be the biggest disruption the automotive industry has seen since the horseless carriage, with futuristic technology that will not only see the potential phasing out of the steering wheel and forward facing seats, but also fundamental changes to vehicle insurance and road traffic laws.
It is inevitable that legislation relating to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will develop over the next decade, but it is important that industry experts address this as soon as possible. Because, right now, we are stuck in a huge grey area.
Auto Futures speaks to Ben Gardner, an automotive specialist from international law firm Pinsent Masons, to understand how existing laws need to be amended – or removed – to make way for new laws that support the rollout and ensure the safety of autonomous vehicles.
“The vast majority of existing road traffic laws were not drafted with future vehicle technologies and functionalities in mind,” he explains. “Therefore, we will see existing road traffic laws amended to remove uncertainties where these laws do not permit such technologies and functionalities – in order to allow them to be legally deployed on the road network.”
Above all else, new laws are vital to future mobility, as new risks are starting to emerge such as cybersecurity, telecommunications glitches and testing on public roads. However, says Gardner, “introducing new laws is a lengthy process and, by the time new laws are introduced, there is a risk they could well be out of date. It will be interesting to see if the government is able to introduce legislation that could allow laws to be introduced, amended or removed more quickly than is currently the case so that the UK’s regulatory environment is as agile as possible.”
A Huge Opportunity with Huge Challenges
The connected car will revolutionise transport, but create new challenges such as data management, privacy and sharing. Due to this, it is vital that the industry approaches this issue together, understanding the entire process behind developing, testing and bringing autonomous vehicles to market.
“The data generated by CAVs will bring huge opportunities but also huge challenges to the industry,” says Gardner. “It will be paramount for those in the industry to have a firm grip on the data that is being generated by vehicles, whether this data is personal or not, and how it can be used in what is a heavily regulated environment.”
This brings us to another facet of autonomous legal challenges: data. Businesses involved in self-driving software will also need to focus on anonymising data to avoid privacy concerns with consumers’ personal data. With vehicles today already being hacked into, compliance with data protection legislation is a necessity.
“The advancement of CAVs is likely to be dependent on the sharing of data between those in the industry and it will be important for the industry to collaborate and share or pool data,” adds Gardner.
“However, it will be important to consider appropriate frameworks within which to do this which are not only acceptable from a commercial perspective but also compliant with data protection and competition laws.”
Insure and Go
Historically the position on autonomous vehicle insurance was blurry, with little to no specific regulations in place. But we are starting to see new legislation, most notably the Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Act that arrived in 2018.
This is the first piece of UK legislation specifically tailored to CAVs, which works as an extension of the current motor insurance regime. This means that in the event of an accident involving a CAV, the insurer would generally pay out to the innocent party, similar to conventional vehicles.
But this doesn’t entirely overcome the issue of who is ultimately liable for an accident, which has been argued between industry experts for some time. There are many different companies involved within CAVs, including the OEM, component supplier and the telematics provider.
“In a CAV context, it would be that following an accident the insurer would look to reclaim against whoever caused the accident. This could be any number of parties in a CAV ecosystem: from the car manufacturer to a software supplier, and from a telecommunications provider to an infrastructure owner,” says Gardner.
Due to this, the government may have to monitor current legal frameworks and develop new ones that help decide where responsibility for an accident ultimately sits in a more complex ecosystem whilst also allowing self-driving vehicles to thrive.
We will see more change in the industry over the next 5-10 years than we have in the last 50, with new types of vehicles, mobility services, new ways of powering vehicles and new models of ownership changing the way we perceive transport.
Gardner says that, as the industry continues to be disrupted by technology, we will see new players enter the market and possibly see traditional businesses dropping out of the market as a result of failing to keep up with the pace of change and ever-shifting customer needs.
Despite this, he believes that this is all part of the journey to more efficient transport, as traditional business models change and innovative start-ups enter the market and revolutionise the automotive industry.
“The outlook is a positive one though, particularly for those who develop innovative products and services to help people and products get to their desired location,” says Gardner.
Standards may also need to be introduced for CAVs in order to manage this disruptive technology and ensure that consumers are safe when autonomous vehicles are finally made available to the public.