Welcome to the Driverless Law: Our First Post is Live!

Welcome to a new blog Driverless Law dedicated to the legal aspects of automated vehicles. My name is Jozef Andraško[1], and together with Stela Košťálová[2], we will provide you with our professional and scientific observations on topics that are shaping legal world of automated vehicles.

In our introductory blog, we aim to explain why we chose to write about the legal aspects of automated vehicles. We believe that this topic is not receiving enough attention in our region, and we do not consider it a topic solely for science fiction movies. We will also specify the particular problems we want to address in our upcoming blogs and why the law faces numerous challenges regarding the introduction of automated vehicles.

Our blogs are aimed at both legal professionals and the general public who have an interest in learning about the legal aspects of automated vehicles. We also hope to engage with fellow researchers in this field, as well as students of law and technical disciplines. In our blog posts, we aim to explain selected legal aspects in clear and comprehensible language that anyone can understand, with minimal using complex legal scientific terminology. We hope that our blogs will be well-received by our target audience and we look forward to receiving their feedback.

Automated vehicles: hype, science fiction or reality?

If we had written this blog 10–15 years ago, many people would have considered the idea of vehicles that drive themselves to be a technical concept inspired by science fiction and not a legal issue. They might have assumed that if such vehicles existed, the current legal frameworks would be able to handle them.

Someone may have agreed with this opinion in the past, but as of 2024, there are legally operated vehicles on the roads of some states that can perform some or all driving tasks (e.g. braking, steering and lane keeping) without the driver’s input. Additionally, these vehicles can even be controlled remotely by the human.

The Waymo One vehicle is a well-known example of a vehicle performing driving tasks without the need for a human driver. It can be summoned through an app and is available for passenger pickup within Arizona’s Phoenix East Valley region. Currently, Waymo’s vehicles are limited to pre-mapped zones and passengers cannot select a destination outside of these areas.

Mercedes-Benz is the pioneer of automated driving in the European Union. In December 2021, it became the first vehicle manufacturer in the world to receive an internationally valid system permit for the automated lane keeping system called DRIVE PILOT. This system can be used on 13,191 km of motorways in Germany.

Another example to illustrate the advancement of technology is the implementation of automated buses. In November 2021, EasyMile, a technology company, obtained authorization to operate its automated bus on a public road alongside other vehicles. The vehicle has been authorized to perform driving tasks under specific conditions on a 600-meter track located at the Oncopole medical campus in Toulouse.

If you believe that automated vehicles are exclusively for transporting people, you are mistaken. Companies like Nuro, Starship Technologies, and Kiwibot have successfully designed and deployed automated delivery vehicles that can deliver packages directly to customers’ doorsteps.

How the fear of automated vehicles drives the future of the law

There is an old saying “history repeats itself, but always in different contexts.” Some people are fearful of the introduction of new technologies on our roads, as we have been accustomed to human control of vehicles for over 100 years. However, this narrative is changing. Although a human driver can physically occupy the driver’s seat of a vehicle, there are moments when certain systems take over the driving. Furthermore, vehicles can be controlled entirely by these systems, with humans relegated to the passenger’s position. This idea may be unimaginable and frightening to many, but it is worth noting that people experienced similar fears at the end of the 19th century when horse-drawn carriages were replaced by the first vehicles. The fear of automobiles was so strong that the speed of vehicles was limited to 4 miles per hour and they operated under the condition of a man waving a red flag in front of them. [3] Analogously, the man with the red flag represents the opinion of some current regulators, according to which it is important to have human involvement in the decision-making process of algorithms.

With the emergence of automated vehicles, policymakers and legal experts have posed numerous questions about how these innovative technologies can potentially disrupt the legal order of a particular state. They are concerned about the possible implications for road traffic, type approval, privacy and data protection, cybersecurity, liability (criminal, civil and administrative) and data management. In addition to the legal matters, there are numerous ethical concerns to consider.

Regulators at the international, European and national level are faced with the question of how to regulate automated vehicles — whether to introduce comprehensive rules or modify existing legislation. We will demonstrate how the regulators addressed these issues in separate blog posts.

What´s next?

What kind of lawyers would we be if we didn’t clarify terminology? In our upcoming blog, we will explain the differences between automated, autonomous, and self-driving vehicles. We will also discuss various technical approaches to these types of vehicles. We have compiled a database(automated vehicle sources) of essential legislative acts, scientific articles and other sources in the field of automated vehicles. We believe that these sources will assist you in your research on automated vehicles.

The blog was originally posted on Medium: https://medium.com/driverless-law/welcome-to-the-driverless-law-our-first-post-is-live-0cdd77faa5f9

[1] Jozef is an Associate Professor and the head of the Institute of IT Law and Intellectual Property Law at the Law Faculty of Comenius University Bratislava. He conducts research and publishes on topics such as eGovernment, electronic identity, open data, information and cyber security, and automated vehicles.

[2] Stela is a 1st year Master’s student Law at the Law Faculty of the Comenius University Bratislava. Since March 2023, she works as a student research assistant at the Institute of Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law, where she focuses on legal challenges to the deployment of automated vehicles, especially relating to cybersecurity and information security.

[3] https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2014/01/07/the-red-flag-man/