Liability Concerns, Regulation Authority Top Obstacles for Self-Driving Growth, Survey Says
February 06, 2019      

Consumer safety concerns over liability and murkiness on which regulatory authority should be responsible for self-driving vehicles were the top concerns of a recent survey of technology leaders and regulators.

Conducted by global law firm Perkins Coie LLP and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Survey asked more than 260 respondents in the automotive industry, technology sector, and regulatory arena, both state and federal, on their opinions on the state of the autonomous vehicle sector.

When asked what the biggest obstacle to the growth of AVs in the next five years, 34% said safety concerns, followed by the price of investment (24%), cybersecurity and data privacy concerns (15%), and the consumer readiness to adopt (13%). Interestingly, only 5% said the lack of a regulatory framework would be an obstacle.

Who’s responsible?

However, there’s not a large majority about which group should be responsible for AVs. When asked who would be the best means of establishing regulations of AVs, 54% said the U.S. Department of Transportation, with 23% suggesting a self-regulatory organization created by the industry, and 20% wanting regulations developed at the state or municipal level.

William Malley Perkins Coie

William Malley, Perkins Coie

“The emergence of any new technology requires adaptation of existing regulatory regimes,” said William G. Malley, office managing partner for Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C. “The same is true with automated vehicles. Regulators at every level will need to rethink and update existing requirements. In the long run, smart regulation can help to facilitate the development and deployment of this new technology by providing regulatory certainty and helping to reinforce the public’s confidence in the new technology.”

The report’s authors said that the preference for federal regulation shows “the difficulty automakers anticipate in achieving widespread adoption of AVs without a broad and coherent regulatory framework.” Consistency could also ease challenges of “deliberately making rules to govern technology that is changing and advancing at breakneck speeds,” the report stated.

One survey respondent, a former administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator, who now works for an AV startup, said regulatory frameworks would be irrelevant by the time they came out, due to the speed of technology advances. “That’s the issue now with technology moving so fast,” the respondent said. “If you regulate a technology or operating capability today, by the time the rule is finished, it would be obsolete.”

Concerns on liability

Reducing traffic accidents was seen as the top benefit for consumers using AVs, but concerns about safety were also seen as the biggest obstacle to the growth of AVs. In addition, 30% of respondents said consumer confidence in AVs has been affected by recent high-profile problems with AVs.

“Everybody does agree that safety and public trust are critical,” said the previously mentioned respondent who was an NHTSA administrator. “Tech companies don’t have to deal with a highly regulated industry where people die if your product doesn’t work. It’s not just about safety, it’s about trust.”

On the liability question, half of the respondents said the top challenge in bringing AVs to market will be liability concerns, such as deciding insurance coverage, and liability issues – manufacturer vs. operator vs. rider responsibilities. Part of the problem in determining liability is the lack of a regulatory framework, one respondent said.

“There’s a cap on how far you can go with existing vehicle safety standards,” said one of the respondents of the survey who was in the legal field. “There are a lot of mixed messages that are hard to reconcile. You don’t have a liability issue until you’ve failed on safety. Liability is typically determined through the courts, not by regulators.”

Tech improvements that can help

Respondents were asked two questions about technologies and infrastructure improvements that could help drive the growth of the industry. When asked about what technologies would be most attractive for investment over the next five years, 23% said 5G technologies, 23% said vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications, and 23% said advanced driver assistance systems.

On the infrastructure side, 54% said upgrades were needed for highways and thoroughfares for road signs, traffic lights, and merge lanes; while 26% said cities needed to “ensure lane markings on city streets are visible and consistent.”

The full study can be downloaded here.