touch the steering wheel once every min-
Rules of the road
ute. Audi is expected introduce a 2017
model that will operate without the need
for driver control up to speeds of 37 miles
In addition, Level 3 commercial trucks
have already been introduced. For ex-
ample, Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration
is operating on Nevada highways at Level
3. Opinions vary on when there will be
functional Level 4 vehicles, but General
Motors recently announced intentions to
operate a fleet of Lyft vehicles in an un-
named urban environment in 2017.
One core problem automated vehicle
technology presents is the conflict be-
tween new technology and the exist-
ing rules of the road. Almost all of the
rules, regulations and laws governing the
manufacture and operation of vehicles
assume that a human will operate the ve-
hicle from behind a steering wheel.
For example, vehicles are designed and
approved for sale only after it is deter-
mined that they can be operated safely
by a human driver. In addition, drivers
are only allowed to operate vehicles once
they have been tested and licensed by
the state. Even something as mundane as
speed limits are currently based on the
time it takes the average human driver
to perceive, react and safely halt a vehicle
when presented with an obstruction.
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Stan-
dards require that simple functions such
as windshield wiper controls be within
reach of the operator and be manually
controlled. There are also strict rules and
regulations in place, including criminal
penalties, for operators driving under the
influence of alcohol. Furthermore, civil
and criminal liability in auto accidents
is measured at least in part by driver ac-
countability for insuring a vehicle is oper-
ated safely based on roadway conditions.
automated vehicles can perceive ob-
structions better than human drivers
and stop vehicles more quickly?
have to be licensed if he or she is not in
control of the vehicle?
are impaired by medication, alcohol or
a physical impairment?
hicle, can he or she be found negligent
for failing to override the car’s artificial
intelligence and assume control in an
Without concrete answers to these
questions the full benefits of autonomous
driving technology cannot be unlocked,
posing risks to the speedy adoption of the
technology by consumers.
The rules also need to be rewritten to
ensure that the same rules that seek to
enforce safe human driving now do not
pose roadblocks to the continued development of automated driving technology.
For example, several states have laws that
require a driver to keep one hand on the
wheel while a vehicle is in motion. Such
a law, while relatively simple on its face,
is in fact complicated when applied to
automated vehicles. Who is the driver of
an automated vehicle, the vehicle or the
human occupant? If it is the vehicle, then
the law cannot be applied as written.
On the other hand, if the “driver” is
still the human occupant, the law can be
enforced, but has no value as the “driver”
is not actually in control of the vehicle.
Furthermore, this law assumes that a ve-
hicle needs a steering wheel. This is just
a single example of the rules, regulations
and laws that, through their focus on a
human occupant as the “driver” of the ve-
hicle, could slow or derail the rollout of
semi- or fully-automated vehicles.
In order for automated technology to
continue to advance at a rapid pace, it will
need commercial acceptance, which will
be driven in large part by consumers who
appreciate the safety enhancements and
believe that our legal system will embrace
this technology in an unrestricted man-
ner. What is the point of owning a vehicle
is a broad concept
encompassing a wide
range of technologies and
capabilities, some existing
in vehicles today and
others still years away.
Newer Model S electric cars have autonomous driving features that a driver must activate, placing
liability for collisions in the hands of the owner. (Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)