Legal gridlock ahead for driverless cars?

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We’re used to seeing the latest technological revolutions sweeping through stores and into our homes and offices. From the rise of mobile phones, to smartphones and tablets, it seems that society is prepared to embrace the rapidly increasing pace of change.

However, the same cannot be said when technologies require buy-in not just from consumers, but also from governments and law-makers. Unfortunately, this is true even when the reasons to adopt such technologies are hugely compelling.

A good example of this is driverless cars. The technology needed to remove error-prone humans from the driving equation has been coming on in leaps and bounds in recent years. Thanks to the ingenious combination of laser range finders, cameras, radar, inertial sensors and high-detail maps, cars already exist that can  autonomously drive while humans sit behind the wheel and monitor software.

Google has been making big strides in this area and was awarded a US patent  self-driving cars at the end of last year. But despite the amazing success of the technology, which has now logged more than 150,000 miles of driving experience without any mishaps, governments and standards bodies have been reluctant to accept its implementation on the open road. This is despite the fact that, according to the World Health Organisation, road traffic injuries caused an estimated 1.2 million deaths worldwide each year.

Certainly, the technology still needs to be refined. It may take years before robotic cars can cope with the huge variety of scenarios human drivers face around the world every day. Governments and motoring bodies will also insist that the technology is tested and retested – ensuring absolute reliability before it is allowed to see the light of day.

One can only hope that the time taken to test the technology is what is needed, rather than a jungle of unnecessary red-tape. The bottom line is, the consequences of not deploying this technology as soon as it is proven to be ready can be directly linked to road deaths. A delay of even two years (very little in government terms) could cost thousands of lives.

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One Response to “Legal gridlock ahead for driverless cars?”

  1. Matthew N Says:

    Hi Nick

    Happily, multiple legislatures are currently regulating driverless cars. China is also pressing hard with development of driverless car technology, demonstrating a vehicle last year that drove 180mi on some fairly busy roads (if you have ever been on China’s roads.. you would understand that is a pretty hefty test for any driverless car tech!)

    If you want to follow the legal process, Bryant Walker-Smith has created a very helpful wiki:

    http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/wiki/index.php/Automated_Driving:_Legislative_and_Regulatory_Action

    Thanks

    Matthew Newton
    Driverless Car HQ

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