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The Emerging Legal and Regulatory Frameworks for Autonomous Vehicles



There is no question, autonomous vehicles are one of the hot emerging technologies. Tesla helped push the technology out of the lab and onto the road with their Auto-Pilot feature. Now, virtually every car maker is experimenting with self-driving cars and trucks. Ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are running have put self-driving cars on the road.

As often happens, the technology has gotten out ahead of government regulations. In March 2018, a GM Cruise self-driving car was pulled over by the police for not properly yielding to a pedestrian. Historically, the it was the driver of a car that received the ticket because the driver was responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. But what do you do with a self-driving car? Does the manufacturer of the car pay the fine? The company that developed the software? The ride-sharing company operating the car? The passenger in the car?

A good place to start getting up to speed is the US Department of Transpiration’s Automated Vehicles website. On the site you can find a white paper, Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0. In that white paper, the USDOT indicates their support for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Levels of Automation. This definition has become a de-facto standard around the world.

The SEA framework offers a means of distinguishing the level of autonomy of a vehicle. The SAE defines the levels this way:

  • Level 0 – No Automation. The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic-driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.

  • Level 1 – Driver Assistance. The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

  • Level 2 – Partial Automation. The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

  • Level 4 – Conditional Automation. The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

  • Level 5 – High Automation. The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

  • Level 6 – Full Automation. The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.

As a startup, why should you care?

If you working in the autonomous vehicle space, even just making sensors, you legal risk increases based on the level of autonomy you are supporting.


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