Autonomous Vehicles and the Law

“You can look forward to automation as a similar set of local and national tensions and developments and opportunities,” said Bryant Walker Smith. Smith was comparing the early days of broadband and its organic development to what we are seeing with vehicle automation. He brings a unique perspective on this topic, as he is a former transportation engineer, turned law professor who is a current Fellow, Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, as well as an Assistant Professor of the School of Law and Assistant Professor (by courtesy) of the School of Engineering for the University of South Carolina.

He suggests that, although local communities aren’t going to determine national policy, it is important for them to begin laying the foundation for the various levels of autonomous vehicles in their communities. There are use-cases that may already be economic, including introducing automation into applications such as fleets, downtowns, business campuses and retirement homes (think Villages in San Jose). He suggests that city planners and officials need to be preparing for and asking the questions of what happens as these use-cases become viable.

Many of the important questions that need to be asked are in Smith’s 2012 Santa Clara Law Review white paper. As he points out, the implications of automating vehicles may not always be so obvious (for instance, decrease the cost of travel might mean more vehicle miles traveled). His important point is that now is the time for cooperation among various disciplines to get the full benefit of vehicle automation.

Note, the above video was filmed at the all-day workshop, Envisioning Automated Vehicles within the Built Environment: 2020, 2035 and 2050.


Lastly, given that we seem to be on precipice of some major changes in the way we transport goods and people, what question regarding transportation would you ask someone running for mayor of an urban area (yes, I am trying to crowd-source some intelligent questions for a potential debate)? Let us know by completing the comment field below.

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