Autonomy and the Law

Crain’s Detroit Business published a story about all of the Michican law firms that are forming autonomous vehicle legal teams to handle this new category of business.

And I can imagine there is lots of new business to get. In particular, the attorney’s quoted in the story talk a lot about connectivity issues. Whereas I might have guessed that the legal issues surrounding autonomy are primarily safety-related, these legal teams think there is a lot of legal work related to transmitting data from the car to the cloud or to other cars.

The geographic angle is also interesting. One of the lawyers mentions that her autonomous vehicle group was formed in response to requests for legal help from startups.

Many of those startups are probably California-based, although the article doesn’t specify.

I’ve written before about the Michigan-California competition for OEMs, but it makes sense that this competition travels all the way up the supply chain.

Breaking the Law

Is it ethical to program a robot to break the law?

Is it good business practice?

It seems like these questions will come up a lot in the future of self-driving cars. In fact, I bet they already have arisen, although I don’t know if any specific cases and how they’ve been handled.

The simplest case might be, is it legal to program a car to exceed the speed limit by 1 mph?

Or what about executing a three-point turn in the middle of an alley blocked off by a delivery truck?

It seems like a vehicle that perfectly followed all traffic laws might work great most of the time, but would occasionally come to a dead stop for hours, or days, on end, until an obstruction cleared.

It’s not clear to me how legislators and police should handle these situations, either.