Looking at My Vehicle Automation Entries in the Rear-View Mirror

Thank you for reading my posts this week. If you happen to be Eugene Volokh or Ken Anderson, thank you in particular for making them possible. And if you were one of my thoughtful commenters, thank you for questioning and challenging; I have read your remarks with great interest.

My goal in these posts was to raise a set of legally relevant issues that have yet to receive sufficient attention in public and academic discussions of vehicle automation: automated shuttles, infrastructure planning, process-based regulation, and product obsolescence.

Critically, these are also issues that matter to the present: Automated shuttles are already available, at least one environmental impact statement has already analyzed automated truck platooning, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is currently drafting rules on self-driving vehicles, and cars with what are considered to be “advanced” driver assistance systems are on the market today. Responsible deployment of automation technologies requires a dialogue between law and engineering, and on these particular issues it is the law’s turn to speak.

Many other technical, legal, and policy issues will also be (gradually and imperfectly) resolved through this iterative process. The wholesale reinvention of our tort system, for example, is probably not necessary for self-driving cars and trucks to (eventually) reach the market. At the same time, however, incrementalism may obscure the evolution of some values, like citizen and consumer privacy, that merit more public attention.

One of the recurrent themes in my posts was the potential for greater centralization: The deployment of centrally managed shuttle fleets, the development of process-based rules that may benefit larger companies, and the continuation of manufacturer control through over-the-air updates could all tend to consolidate rather than disperse power. I understand that technical and political dangers are inherent in this systematic approach, which I shared on this site precisely because its readers are so well positioned to articulate alternative visions.

The comments on my posts do reveal very different conceptions of technological feasibility; some suggest that I am too optimistic, while others suggest that I am too pessimistic. Technical experts working in the field of vehicle automation also disagree on this point, and policymakers must accept that technical–as well as legal and reputational–uncertainty surrounding these systems is likely to persist even after the first truly self-driving vehicles have reached streets and showrooms.

As we move closer to that time, I’ll continue to welcome your thoughts; you can reach or follow me here. Thank you again for reading, thinking, discussing, and conspiring.