An autonomous car (driverless or self-driving) has been defined as a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input having the means of self-governance. However as the technology develops they are also defined by various levels of capability to operate without the active involvement of a driver.

Whilst self-driving cars (which still have a driver in the seat) are well under way in terms of development, it will take more time before we are all using fully automated cars.

Experts from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have estimated that by 2040 up to 75% of all cars will be fully autonomous. The IEEE has also said that of six possible problems with the mass adoption of driverless vehicles, the three biggest obstacles are legal liability, policymakers and consumer acceptance followed only then by cost, infrastructure and technology problems.  

Are we going to be ready for the disruptive implications of operating both self driving cars and then fully autonomous cars and what needs to be done to control and regulate its operation?

Various states in the USA have already developed basic laws to recognize autonomous cars which range from allowing a self-driving car on public roads (provided a human driver is behind the wheel and able to take control) to allowing testing on certain roads. In Europe and the United Kingdom laws are in place to allow for testing.

However the real issues lie in how to regulate the day to day commercial use when that arrives and some major issues will be:

1. Liability

Allocation of liability when a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident that causes personal injury or property damage will be a major issue. Take the scenario of who is liable when a car reverts suddenly to driver control (human or computer error generated) and an collision occurs? Who is liable the driver or the manufacturer? As new issues of possible causation like this arise the law will need to be developed to accommodate the appropriate duty of care principles.

It will also require the development of appropriate manufacturing standards to meet issues like this interface between driver and computer system control. Should the manufactures be allowed to self regulate in areas like this or not. When dealing with human safety issues it is not something that can really be left to commercial interests alone. Then when full automation is in play will liability then just be the sole responsibility of the manufacturer? The potential implications for the insurance industry throughout this whole progression are very far reaching and it will turn the concept of traditional motor vehicle insurance on its head.

2. Regulation  of operation

With the new operational skills the traditional approach to licensing, driver training, and operation of the vehicles will need to change with the development of a whole new system for teaching and regulating.

The challenge for modern society is too ensure that it moves as fast with the policy and regulation development as with the technology.