Self-driving vehicles could spark big changes in roadways, travel, law

googlecar-thumb-325x215-191042Self-driving vehicles will be on the road sooner than you think—and their presence could spark widespread and transformative changes. Two U of M researchers gave a glimpse of these changes in a session at Minnesota’s Transportation Conference in March, sponsored in part by CTS.

Companies from GM to Google are developing self-driving vehicle technology, said Adeel Lari, research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Much of the current discussion focuses on the systems’ promise to eliminate driver error and avoid crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Other impacts, however, could increase travel. The elderly, people with disabilities, and children would gain mobility, Lari explained, and commuters who could sleep or work en route might choose to live further away from their jobs.

State and local coffers could see some impacts. More people might forgo car ownership and join a shared fleet service, reducing vehicle tax and license revenues, Lari said. Revenues from speeding and parking tickets would also drop.

Frank Douma, associate director of the Humphrey School’s State and Local Policy Program, then looked deeper into the legal and privacy implications of self-driving vehicles.

Current law is unclear, he said, but as vehicles assume more control, lawsuits are likely to shift from the driver to the manufacturer. Plaintiffs could also target vehicle owners for failing to maintain a vehicle adequately. As technology moves forward, Douma said, “the law needs to move with it.”

One way to help clarify liability is to use data from a vehicle’s black box, but this raises another issue: privacy. States offer varying levels of privacy protection, Douma said, and the courts have been wrestling with the issue. Protections could include setting limits on the data collected and how they can be used.

Read the full article in the May issue of Catalyst.

Posted in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Intelligent vehicles, Travel Behavior

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