5 Legal Principles for Engineers to Build into Autonomous Vehicles

Engineering law into driverless cars

Unique actionable content only from Adam Atlas Attorneys at Law.

Engineers, being engineers, might think that these early days of autonomous vehicles are their exclusive private domain for debates over lidar versus cameras or object recognition. We respectfully disagree and believe that self-driving cars should be engineered to take into consideration the following 5 legal principles.

1. Risk Assessment and Disclosure: In bio (i.e. human) driven cars, the assumption of risk by the drive for their own follies is baked into the model. Autonomous vehicles, however, will represent a different formula for the assumption of risk and drivers will expect to have the right to know the quantum of those risks.  For example, what are the chances that this car will slam into a truck, when taking into consideration the various engineering components of the car.  Unlike bio-driven cars, autonomous vehicles are able to quantify risk at every turn. It is natural, therefore, that consumers (or their lawyers or insurers) will wish to access that data. A heuristic risk assessor should be build into autonomous vehicles.

2. Privacy Controls – location. Assuming self-driving car fleets will be in constant communication with their respective manufacturers, as well as other cars on the road, drivers will wish to secure a measure of control over the data concerning their whereabouts. Today, we worry about this issue because of mobile phones that relay geolocation information to app developers. In the self-driving scenario, however, like with MAC addresses of phones, other cars and roads etc.. will be able to identify your unique vehicle throughout its whole trip. If the smart road at the end of my driveway knows my car has started to move and where it goes etc… cities will have intimate knowledge of the trips of citizens. Drivers will demand a measure of control over location data of their cars which will be housed in many locations all at the same time.

3. Privacy Controls – on-board. Many Ubers and taxis have cameras today, some are required by law. Autonomous fleets without internal cameras are very unlikely. Drivers will wish to secure a measure of control over the recording of their – often intimate – moments in self-driving cars.

4. Sanitation Gauge. By force of economics, autonomous vehicles will, to a large extent, be shared. This means that a single vehicle could transport a hundred or more people in a day. That’s a lot of sweaty passengers in a small space. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers would be at a disadvantage if they fail to build into their vehicles and the surfaces of the vehicles automated sanitation gauges to determine when the vehicle needs to be cleaned. Self-cleaning is not a bad option either for urban settings with heavy usage. 

5. Maximum Utility Platform. Given that passengers in driverless cars will have free hands and minds, the possibilities for leisure or work activities in self-driving cars are as wide as those for any home or office.  The interiors should therefore be designed for maximum utility and flexibility. One take on this is the  Mercedes Urbanetic concept. From a legal perspective, the flexibility of the car gives rise to a need for disclosing to passengers the range of safe activities and controls over preventing unsafe activities. For example, what does a self-driving car do when it detects that a firearm has been discharged in the car; should it divert to the nearest hospital or police station? Should it lock the passengers inside or eject them. These are all questions that require coordination between engineering and legal advisors at the earliest instances of the design stage.Having advised in electronic transactions for 15 years, Adam Atlas Attorneys at Law is pivoting to engage with the self-driving and autonomous vehicle designers to learn from them and plan for a legal framework supporting the new transportation network they are building.

Nothing in this email should be construed as legal advice Adam Atlas Attorney at Law is licensed in NY and QC.

Adam Atlas Attorneys at Law