For decades, traffic laws have sought to regulate the actions and qualifications of drivers. But what if the driver isn’t a human being?
If the car drives itself, what does that mean for driver-education courses? If the self-driving car is involved in a crash, who’s at fault? And if the operator of the self-driving car has no driving responsibilities, can he or she be impaired without fear of liability?
And while we’re at it, just how do we define operator?
“We have all these laws on the books, and we have emerging disruptive technologies that create ambiguities with those laws,” says Ginger Goodin, director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Transportation Policy Research Center. “We have to find a way to harmonize the two.”
That need for harmony is central to an expanding collaboration between TTI and the Texas A&M University School of Law. Experts from each institution are exploring the numerous legal issues found at the crossroads of transportation and technology, among them the following:
- Connected and automated vehicles (CV/AVs), to operate efficiently, require huge amounts of locational and personal data. The collection and use of those data raise privacy concerns, in addition to questions over who owns the data and how they can be used.
- CV/AVs also require robust wireless communications networks. These could potentially be exposed to hacking and/or cyberterrorism, creating far-reaching implications for national security.
- Motor vehicle standards are regulated at the federal level, but authority over use of the roadway system by CV/AVs is left to the states and, in some cases, local governments. This opens the possibility for a regulatory patchwork that breeds uncertainty for everyone concerned.
“There’s a rapidly growing industry developing and implementing the technologies that promise to reshape transportation, and a well-established community of policy makers who are responsible for regulating that transportation,” says TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree. “It is essential that we also have a research community well studied and comfortable in both of those worlds. That’s why TTI’s growing relationship with the Texas A&M Law School is so vitally important.”
Joint research efforts thus far have focused on the policy implications of unmanned aircraft systems, truck platooning and transportation network companies. TTI also played a central part in a Texas A&M Law School symposium last year focusing on transportation and technology.
“CV/AVs will have the greatest influence on mobility since the birth of the Interstate Highway System, but we’re going to face a lot of complexities along the way,” says Texas A&M Law School Dean Andy Morriss. “In working with TTI, we can navigate those issues and help the nation fully realize the potential benefits of autonomous travel.”