Last week’s fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian renewed calls for governments to take more action on regulating the nascent technology. With varying self-driving car rules in place at the local, state and federal governments, it’s becoming clear that more work needs to be done.
Around the world, other countries are chiming in with their own policies for autonomous vehicles, with mixed results. In every case, legislators and government executives are attacking regulatory matters in less-than-systematic fashions, making it more difficult to assess long-term leadership.
Germany creates regulations, ethical guidelines
For example, Germany leads the world in creating national public policies for autonomous vehicles, but this standing is tenuous and subjective. Other nations and regions could easily leapfrog the European economic powerhouse, creating the optimal regulatory environment for autonomous mobility.
Two of Germany’s most recent federal laws, are by turns prosaic and philosophical. One law requires that a person be in an autonomous vehicle, ready to take over at all times. It mandates that all systems and events be recorded for later analysis. The law also states that manufacturers can only be held liable for accidents occurring while their computer systems control a vehicle.
The May 2017 legislation is mandated to expire and be rewritten in two years to account for unanticipated technological advances. Such flexibility is considered crucial to the success of regulatory regimes generally.
The second set of car rules, adopted in August 2017, made it illegal to program an autonomous vehicle with demographic preferences when faced with the prospect of causing injury. It can only take actions to do the least harm to people, and humans take precedent over property. In other words, manufacturers are forbidden from programming ethical decisions that would protect lives based on age, ability, pregnancy, etc.
Another rule states that drivers have sole control over data generated by their vehicles.
Self-driving car rules in Japan
Other legal approaches are as diverse as the nations enacting them.
Japan is most active for driverless car rules at the national level, but with provisions that reach to individuals. The country wants to have autonomous vehicles operating in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
In July 2016, Japanese and European leaders agreed to write common vehicle standards to accelerate industry development. One goal is to get the U.S. to adopt these standards.
In April 2017, the National Police Agency in Japan published a list of rules for testing driverless vehicles on public roads. To get a testing permit, companies must:
- Test each vehicle first on a closed track
- Install two-way communication
- Monitor vehicles through systems capable of seeing and hearing road conditions exactly as a driver would
- Get the approval of residents living along test routes
- Allow police to board a vehicle for a visual inspection prior to street testing
- Operate vehicles on routes with uninterrupted wireless coverage
- Stipulate that the person monitoring have a driver license and be held responsible for an accident
- Reapply for a second permit after six months
Singapore swiftly enacts driverless car rules
The tiny island nation has the funds to be a mobile automation innovator, and the centralized political authority to make things happen quickly.
For example, rather than wait for one of the 10 companies and research outfits working on autonomous vehicles in Singapore, the country’s legislature created its own $3.6 million, 4.5-acre test facility.
Taxes and fees in Singapore make car ownership possible for only 15% of the population. A 2017 Toyota Prius costs about $22,000 in the U.S., but $123,000 in Singapore. The best bet for transportation for most citizens would be driverless vehicles.
The government amended its Road Traffic Act with updates recognizing the existence of autonomous vehicles. Following a two-hour debate, lawmakers adopted design standards for vehicles, time, and speed limits during tests. They also set a requirement that all data generated by trials be shared with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority.
Legislators created testing locations in at least four public areas, including One-North, a white-collar, business-heavy area. One-North vehicles must pass a safety test and have a driver on board to take over if necessary.
Singapore’s government installed closed-circuit video cameras and dedicated short-range communication beacons in the area for the trials. Autonomous buses and shuttles will serve the three towns.
Editor’s Note: Robotics Business Review has a more comprehensive report (for RBR Insider subscribers) covering U.S. self-driving car policies, covering federal and state efforts to regulate this industry.