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The roadmap of autonomous driving consists of several factors that must align in order for autonomous vehicles to gain traction, penetrate the vehicle fleet, and extend their benefits to users. Technology has made substantial progress and is on course to support deployment by 2025 and likely even earlier. Nevertheless, an enabling framework including regulation and a broader social conversation has lagged behind.
Without a proper framework in place, it is unlikely that autonomous vehicles will earn the trust and confidence of the consumer market. Without consumers on board, the chance of successful deployment beyond test cases is very small. A framework consisting of legislation and regulations, vehicle testing and ratings, insurance, and a broader ethical and social context are needed to allow autonomous driving to move forward.

Legislation and regulations
Under the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic of 1968, autonomous vehicles were illegal in all 73 party countries, with the notable exclusion of the United States, Japan, China, and Australia. Article 8 of the Vienna Convention stating that “every moving vehicle […] shall have a driver” made autonomous vehicles illegal in practice; an amendment made in March 2014 added “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle” and what was once illegal is now legal, provided the autonomous system can be overridden or switched off by the driver.
Unlike the majority of countries in Europe, the United States has not been hindered by the Vienna Convention, and therefore has moved forward with research and testing on public roads. There also has not been an overarching federal law pertaining to autonomous driving; the hierarchy of state and federal law—and the absence of the latter—has put the onus on the individual states.
Currently, four states—California, Florida, Michigan, and Nevada—have established regulations for governing autonomous vehicle testing, and another 12 states currently have regulations under consideration. These regulations have taken a similar approach and have not been contradictory, allowing the industry to test on public roads provided the responsible parties complete the bureaucratic process of licensing in each location individually.
Rating and testing
Either after or along with the codification of a legal and regulatory framework, technical certification needs to be established. This process will likely take the form of vehicle testing and ratings in the major New Car Assessment Programmes (NCAP) and likely in the form of industry mandates over the longer term.
NCAP tests and ratings will facilitate standardized evaluations and allow consumers to make informed, objective decisions. Euro NCAP has led the way so far both in terms of testing and consumer outreach: beginning in 2014, it began evaluating autonomous emergency braking systems, and it saw successful engagement with European consumers as electronic stability control moved from optional to standard to mandatory status.
Other NCAPs will not be left behind. Vehicle manufacturers often use their star ratings in advertisements, and consumers are increasingly aware of the breadth of information available when purchasing a new car. The United States, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are all considering adding new technologies to their new car evaluation programs.
Insurance
The need for car insurance is unlikely to disappear with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, but it is likely to take a different form. Insurance will move from personal liability to product liability, and therefore the entire business model is subject to significant change. There are unlimited unanswered questions regarding the future of car insurance, and the industry is unlikely to have concrete answers to many of them until lawyers force one of many judicial decisions. This “learn-as-we-go” process will help shape the car insurance landscape in the new world of autonomous transportation.
Ethics
Ethics is a particularly fluid, loosely defined subject that deals with the concept of what is right and wrong. It must be a part of the broader social conversation that surrounds new forms of mobility in which humans are no longer completely liable and in control.
Jason Millar published “The Tunnel Problem,” a hypothetical scenario of an unavoidable crash and a robotic driver that must take action: in an inevitable crash, should the car choose to strike a pedestrian or crash and put itself and its occupants at risk? Even if the software is designed to be particularly cautious and therefore unlikely to get itself into such a situation, the hypothetical dilemma highlights the fact that somebody—the manufacturer, system designer, software engineer, seller, or buyer—must decide how the system will react to such conditions.
That decision fits into the broad social context that is a fundamental part of our daily lives. In addition to the fundamental social argument of saving tens of thousands of lives and massive amounts of wasted resources each year, something as transformative as autonomous transportation raises many more questions about how we use technology and the implications it holds for ourselves and others in all areas of our lives. More than regulation, legislation, and technical aspects, it is this human context that has the greatest potential to hasten or hamper the onset of this simultaneously evolutionary and revolutionary technology
By Helena Perslow and Jeremy Carlson

Posted January 13, 2015


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