Liability and Regulation of Autonomous Vehicle Technologies

Published in: California PATH Research Report, UCB-ITS-PRR-2009-28, (Berkeley, Calif.: California PATH Program, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Berkeley, Apr. 2009), 74 p

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2009

by Nidhi Kalra, James M. Anderson, Martin Wachs

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Autonomous vehicle technologies and advanced driver-assistance systems have the potential to significantly improve transportation safety and efficiency, and, collectively, they may offer tremendous social, economic, and environmental benefits. As these technologies increasingly perform driving functions, they also create a shift in responsibility for driving from the driver to the vehicle itself. This motivates a new look at liability and regulatory regimes because of the increasing uncertainty about what should happen when the inevitable crash occurs and the implications for the adoption of these technologies. This research is an initial step toward understanding these issues and creating an integrated collection of policies to address them. In this work, we first evaluate how the existing liability regime would likely assign responsibility in crashes involving autonomous vehicle technologies. We identify the controlling legal principles for crashes involving these technologies and examine the implications for their further development and adoption. We anticipate that consumer education will play an important role in reducing consumer overreliance on nascent autonomous vehicle technologies and minimizing liability risk. We also discuss the possibility that the existing liability regime will slow the adoption of these socially desirable technologies because they are likely to increase liability for manufacturers while reducing liability for drivers. Finally, we discuss the possibility of federal preemption of state tort suits if the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) promulgates regulations and some of the implications of eliminating state tort liability. Second, we review the existing literature on the regulatory environment for autonomous vehicle technologies. To date, there are no government regulations for these technologies, but work is being done to develop initial industry standards. It will be particularly important for autonomous vehicle technology standards-unlike standards for most other automotive technologies-to specify precise environmental conditions under which compliance must be met and tested, include performance standards and tests under a wide range of environmental conditions, and take into account how diverse populations of drivers might use the technologies.

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