Current Law and Potential Legal Issues Pertaining to Automated, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal (January 2015)

Vehicle automation technologies that modestly manipulate a vehicle’s direction and speed without driver involvement have already been introduced into the market and are becoming increasingly commonplace. Different than mere warning systems, such as those that sense and warn a driver of fatigue or unsafe speed while approaching a turn, automated vehicle technologies assume a limited level of command over vehicle performance. Examples of currently available automated vehicle technologies include front crash prevention systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention systems, blind spot detection, park assist, backover prevention, and antilock brakes.

The commercial introduction and consumer acceptance of such vehicle automation technologies indicate the potential for autonomous vehicles that assume full command of vehicle operation except under specific limited circumstances. Although autonomous vehicles have not yet been offered for mainstream sale, development of autonomous vehicle technologies has advanced rapidly. Google has been a forerunner in developing and testing autonomous vehicle technologies,2 while traditional automotive manufacturers have placed an emphasis on limited automated vehicle technologies and their current determination that drivers must continue to be engaged in driving vehicles.

Technological advances in vehicle automation and autonomy will lead to significant legal developments. This article presents the current state of applicable law and reviews significant legal issues pertaining to automated and autonomous vehicles. In addition, because many vehicle automation and vehicle autonomy technologies are not feasible without electronic communications between vehicles or between vehicles and infrastructure—vehicle “connectivity”—this article also reviews data privacy issues relating to vehicle connectivity.

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