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Justice Innovation III | Blog

From GPS systems to in-car entertainment suites, Significant strides in automotive innovation have graced us with access to much new technology. The past few years, however, have presented a unique challenge and prompted much consideration about the future of the car industry. The introduction of autonomous vehicular technology, such as Tesla's autopilot system, are now available in most consumer markets worldwide. Naturally, concerns have arisen concerning the safety aspects of such technology on public road networks. Granted, such concerns are valid – even long-existent autopilot technology on aircraft is not 100% fail-safe, and requires constant user supervision. This concern extends towards the automotive industry itself; whilst automotive industry players continue to insist that the future lies in the adaptation of such technology, often citing growing traffic issues as a significant driver, others argue that for the foreseeable future, the driver and its involvement still remain at the forefront of vehicle usage and safety.

The automotive industry has long been the subject of legal attention and action; notable cases in recent years include Volkswagen's emissions scandal, and more recently, the Takata airbag recall affecting numerous auto makers worldwide. However, it can be argued that in the near future, the introduction of autonomous vehicular technology presents a legal grey area of sorts – in a hypothetical accident, where and what, is the distinction between responsibility falling on the auto maker and its technology, and responsibility falling on the driver of the vehicle? Various recent accidents have put this dilemma to the test, most notably one in May in which an Ohio man was killed when his Tesla crashed into a turning truck whilst on autopilot. In light of such developments, Certain governments have taken action in order to limit the potential for such accidents – Hong Kong's Transportation Department, for example, have gone as far as issuing an order for all locally registered Teslas to be equipped with software lacking the Autopilot and other semi-autonomous features. Yes, an attempt at rectifying the situation; but in doing so, innovation and progress in automotive technology is effectively dealt another blow. In contrast, other governments worldwide have started considering the need for the formation of legal provisions and a structure in order to deal with the anticipated growth and adoption of of autonomous vehicle technology. The complexity of the technology itself can be reflected in the complexity and subjectivity regulatory and legal bodies currently face, in creating such provisions and structures.

Shifts in innovation and technology have resulted in changes to the relationship shared between the automotive and legal industries. With the anticipated future changes to the relationship between society and autonomous technology, going forward, there stands much precedence for both the automotive industry and government to begin the groundwork in preparation for the onset of such technology. The existence of a legal framework with which future developments, negative and positive, concerning autonomous technology can be handled, is crucial to its survival and progress. With both sides working together, the legal industry is effectively presented with an active opportunity and role in establishing and enforcing a regulatory framework, from which the future of autonomous vehicular technology development can be supported and sustained.

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