Part 1: Connected Cars And Their Legal Framework

The automotive sector is undergoing a revolution thanks to machine-to-machine (M2M) technology which will likely change the way people view and utilize cars.  Cars are transforming from means of transportation to smart environments combining increased safety with enhanced travelling experience.  They are morphing from sophisticated mechanical engineering tools to intelligent IT systems on wheels capable of moving persons between geographical points while also allowing them to navigate the boundless web.  

In this series, we will explain what connected cars are, explore the legal framework they have to fit in and highlight some of the major legal and regulatory issues around connected cars. 

  1. What Are Connected Cars?

Connected cars are vehicles equipped with an on-board unit that has an M2M SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card embedded in it. Through the SIM card and the ensuing connectivity to mobile terrestrial and satellite networks, the car is ‘connected’ to the web, thus providing a variety of traffic assistance, monitoring, emergency, diagnostic, anti-crime protection, road-pricing, entertainment and other mobility-related services.  The vehicle may also be used as a wi-fi hotspot, and may come with a variety of dedicated apps preinstalled or downloadable to communicate with other vehicles (V2V), with the road infrastructure – imagine the traffic lights, the toll systems – (V2I), the surrounding buildings (V2B) or even the power grid (V2G).

  1. Who Are The players?

The value chain of connected cars includes a number of players. In an imaginary bottom-up model, starting from the ground (the car) up to the skies (mobile and satellite networks),  there are the car manufacturers, drivers/ consumers, insurers, equipment suppliers, software companies, IT enablers and app providers, connectivity providers (MVNOs) and the mobile network operators (MNOs) or satellite capacity offers. Then there are the regulators from the highway and traffic authorities to the data protection and telecoms regulators. 

  1. What Is The Legal Framework For Connected Cars?

Connected cars will be subject to a mix of laws and regulations across the globe.  These will include, on the one hand, new laws and regulations specifically adopted in respect of connected cars, and on the other hand, existing, non-sector specific laws and regulations. 

For example, Regulation (EU) 2015/758 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2015 concerning type-approval requirements for the deployment of the eCall in-vehicle system will require all new models of cars and light vehicles to be equipped with eCall technology as of 31 March 2018.  In case of a serious accident, the eCall system will automatically call the European single emergency number (112) to signal the accident along with rescue-related information such as the type of car, the time and location, the direction of driving at the moment of the accident, etc. 

Once the car will be equipped with connectivity to the web for eCall purposes, it will only require a little step forward to provide not just emergency services but also other web-based offerings.

Existing laws and regulations that will apply to connected cars include, for example, telecoms regulations, automotive and road regulations, data protection and consumer protection laws.  And if this was not enough, consider that the car – and its driver and passengers – often move across the borders of different countries with different legislation applying in each case.

Part 2 of this series will provide an overview of some of the major regulatory issues that connected cars and their various stakeholders will encounter.