Navigating Emerging Legal Issues in Vehicle Automation

June 28, 2023

The autonomous vehicle (AV) segment stands to revolutionize the personal mobility paradigm by reducing the number of on-road fatalities through increased machine learning and operational control of vehicles by computer systems. Moreover, AV technologies may alter the daily commutes of motorists because their vehicles’ autonomous driving systems could return personal time to them instead of dodging other negligent motorists. 

However, mobility stakeholders should anticipate and prepare for novel and complex legal issues that may expose them to legal liabilities stemming from AV technologies. These legal challenges require counsel that possesses a deep understanding of AV technologies, the legislative landscape, and where the two will meet in the future.

Legislators and regulators have been increasingly active in pursuing market oversight, and providers are well advised to stay abreast of developments in real time, including industry competitiveness and the financial future of the entire market for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).

The Legislative and Regulatory Landscape

There have been several attempts to pass federal AV legislation in the United States. The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act (the SELF DRIVE Act) and the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancements of Revolutionary Technologies Act (the AV START Act) were bills introduced in the US House of Representatives, with the former serving as the first major US legislation seeking to regulate self-driving vehicles.

While those and subsequent House efforts failed, Congress continues to contemplate issues ranging from requiring safety certifications to real-time accident reports. Many states are in various stages of proposing and enacting laws to regulate the driving and development of autonomous vehicles, including Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.

Risk Mitigation

Safety is a central tenet to the effective development of ADAS architecture, product evolution, and inspiring consumer confidence in the mass adoption of Levels 4 and 5 ADAS technologies. As such, mobility stakeholders must establish a culture of safety compliance from the initial stages of product development and not just as an afterthought.

Safety-forward culture consists of implementing in-house trainings for automated driving safety, top-down engineering process assessments, and functional safety workshops to test automatic protection systems for effectiveness, system learning, and the engagement of passive safety systems. In short, safety is not a boring term. To the contrary, safety-forward strategies will allow mobility stakeholders to be prime movers in the Levels 4 and 5 ADAS markets because consumers view safety systems as mission-critical components of AV technologies.

To this end, Morgan Lewis counsels its mobility clients, in conjunction with AV safety engineers, on the development of robust safety driver manuals that address numerous ADAS applications, including fully autonomous on-demand transportation services. Safety driver manuals serve as guideposts that allow ADAS applications to make lightning-quick decisions in response to various stimuli on roadways, including yielding to pedestrians who cross against the traffic light, vehicles that merge into traffic without ample space between cars, or children who chase a ball into the street in a residential neighborhood. 

While the United States does not have ADAS-specific laws and regulations on the safety architecture for these systems, mobility stakeholders have developed globally accepted standards for various AV applications—ISO 26262, UL 4600, and ISO 22737—that should underpin all safety driver manuals. If history repeats itself in the mobility space, these international standards will be relied on by US lawmakers to develop ADAS-specific laws at the federal level.