The European Commission expects as early as next year to propose EU rules which will apply to ‘connected cars’ – cars that can communicate wirelessly with other cars, devices and infrastructure. A Commission consultation on the regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services launched on Friday. A second, covering the free flow of data and cloud computing, is set to launch this month. The resulting legislative proposals should provide welcome support for car manufacturers and TMC companies developing connected vehicle technologies. 

However, EU officials warn that the complexity of autonomous vehicle regulation means a legislative framework for driverless cars remains distant. One key topic in that regard is the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (2012/0011) (GDPR), currently scheduled for agreement at the end of this year and enactment in 2017 or 2018. We should have a clear picture of the GDPR by the time any connected car rules are announced: it remains to be seen how the GDPR will interplay with the proposed connected car rules and the overall impact on connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) adoption; or, indeed, the extent to which the GDPR may influence the remit or coverage of any future CAV regulations. 

Background

Many CAV technologies are already well-established. From Bluetooth technology and cruise control to satellite navigation, parking assistance systems and cellular connectivity, many cars on the roads today benefit from some form of integrated IT designed to promote safe or efficient driving and improve user journeys. Autonomous vehicles in particular have captured public imagination: driverless testing is being carried out on private land and public roads in the U.S. and EU, by established car manufacturers such as Ford and Jaguar Land Rover; and by technology companies – including Google and BAE Systems, with Apple rumoured to be set to join the race. 

As discussed in our previous Law-Now, CAV technologies promise significant economic benefits, but unlocking these benefits will demand substantial effort on the part of Europe’s regulators. There are also some significant legal challenges to overcome. At a recent panel discussion in Brussels, European Parliament Vice President Adina Valean remarked: “I think it's still very early to be talking about autonomous cars. Not necessarily because the technological developments won't be there. But the complexity of the whole thing is huge.” For now, regulatory attention will consequently focus on connected cars. 

EU Consultations

  1. Electronic Communications Framework Consultation

The first of the two public consultations covers the electronic communications framework, including the regulation of radio spectrum. The Commission, as part of its Digital Single Market strategy, is seeking input on a pan-EU process for allocating spectrum, including common rules on national regulators’ spectrum auctions. Previous attempts at a unified EU spectrum policy stalled, with member states reluctant to cede autonomy over lucrative national auction processes. Divergent approaches to the allocation of 800 MHz spectrum are considered to have staggered the EU roll-out of 4G technology. The Commission is concerned that failure to act cohesively at EU level in the allocation of 700 MHz spectrum might threaten EU competitiveness in new communications technologies by creating a fragmented landscape for investors and developers. Speaking at a recent conference, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said: “The internet of things, connected cars…it’s impossible without the 700 MHz band. We have to have deeper cooperation in terms of spectrum in the EU.” The full text of Mr Ansip’s speech is available here.  

  1. Online Platform Regulation Consultation 

The second public consultation will deal with online platforms, including questions on the free flow of data, cloud computing and digital ecosystems. The consultation is expected to remain open until Spring 2016. The Commission has identified data localisation policies, where member states require certain data to be stored exclusively within their own national borders, as a key constraint on innovation. This is of particular concern in the context of connected cars, where the sharing of data between vehicles, devices and infrastructure will be crucial in developing and operating effective systems. Countries such as Germany have imposed restrictions on cloud storage in order to protect sensitive data, fearing security vulnerabilities and foreign disclosure obligations. The Commission recognises these concerns but hopes to build trust in cloud computing and data sharing at an EU level. This, it hopes, will provide the platform needed to drive connected vehicle adoption.

Next steps

The first consultation is open from now until 7 December 2015. The consultation documents can be found here. The second consultation is set to launch during the week commencing 21 September 2015.