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Self-driving cars and the law

With every new technology comes new laws. One emerging technology with strong legal implications is the self-driving or autonomous vehicle. While fully self-driving cars are not yet common, manufacturers have implemented many autonomous features, including lane drift detection, emergency braking and parking assistance. A few of the key legal issues players in this industry can expect to encounter include:

  • Intellectual property lawsuits: Toyota alone has 1400 patents relating in some way to self-driving cars. Pioneers in this emerging field will need strong legal protections to keep their inventions safe from poaching.
  • Liability problems: Who is to blame when a self-driving vehicle injures someone? 2018 saw the first traffic fatality caused by a self-driving vehicle as an Uber-owned autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian. Manufacturers, distributors, programmers, fleet operators and other parties will need to implement strong safety protocols to ensure these vehicles are safe for the road. They will also need to fine-tune insurance policies to prepare for potential litigation.
  • E-discovery: The more aspects of a car’s operation that are controlled by computers, the more data is available to investigators. In legal events ranging from car accident lawsuits to drunk driving cases, scrutinizing a vehicle’s self-driving systems is likely to be fertile ground for attorneys and their investigators.
  • Privacy concerns: When a car records every start, stop and turn, it is constantly compiling information about the car’s owner and occupants. When government agencies and other entities seek out this information, it could usher in a new era of privacy-related lawsuits.

As autonomous vehicles become more and more prevalent, the legal ground they occupy is likely to grow. Attorneys must stay on top of these developments to best serve the people and businesses who operate in these cutting-edge fields.