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How to teach Automated Cars to break the law: the bumpy road ahead for regulation of Connected Vehicles

Driverless cars will have to deal with unforeseen problems. (Photo: iStock / monticellllo)

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Dita Charanzová
Dita Charanzová
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Autonomous and connected driving are the future of Europe, but the challenges of regulations and laws are more important than most lab techs think. A guest contribution by Czech MEP Dita Charanzová.

The excitement over all the wonders that autonomous and connected driving could bring to Europe cannot be understated. The fact that you are reading this article is proof enough of that. But there are many questions that we as legislators and stakeholders cannot afford to overlook when designing the system to make it happen.

In a sandbox world, self-driving cars are working well. If we can control all the factors, there are no risks. Sadly, on the real roads, this is simply not possible. There will always be unforeseen problems, and one of those problems that many technicians overlook are the rules themselves.

Will A.I. decide when to break the Law?

While sensors might be able to slow down a car in the case of an accident, can it tell the vehicle when it is better to break a law than to obey it? Until a true Artificial Intelligence (AI) is created, the computer systems that run these vehicles will always follow the rules by which we programme them. If they follow the laws blindly, there will always be situations where the result is negative for all parties or where the computer does not have an answer so it does nothing at all.

One solution is intelligent systems, even if not true AI, which can adapt to situations. This, however, basically leaves it to programmers to decide what laws to follow and what laws not to and when. So the programmer becomes the policeman, judge, jury and the executioner in one, deciding what rules are really important and which ones are not. This is not a situation that we want. When you throw in that it will be decades before manually driven vehicles are truly obsolete, it is clear that the road ahead will be a bumpy one, both legally and physically.

The big picture: Matching 28 sets of rules into one

Rules, set by regulators, will be the perimeters within which our driving programme will work. Traffic rules will clearly need to be reformed and harmonised in light of the needs of the new vehicles. When you think about Europe, however, with 28 rulebooks and more in non-EU countries, common traffic rules will have to be negotiated. This could take a lot of time, also considering that everyone will believe that their traditions are the best ones.

But for the regulators, the important rules are much more than traffic rules alone. We must also address questions like industrial policy, cyber security, consumer rights, data protection, and liability. Hard questions, such as who is liable for an accident when no one is behind the wheel? The issues are so complex that technicians often try to just skip them and focus instead on the problem right in front of them. Unfortunately, as regulators, we cannot do this, or we would end up with rules that have different versions updated by the week.

Dita Charanzová is a Member of the European Parliament.

I do not believe the Commission or the Parliament can address these issues alone. Our vehicle related industries must be a part of the conversation and must ensure that their engineers are also aware of the larger picture.

We will have to address at the European level items like insurance, infrastructures and standards that allow true competition in the market and to address, if not ownership, then the usage of the massive amount of data that will be generated by these vehicles.

The industry today must pro-actively think about the connected vehicle future beyond the vehicle itself. It is not the robotic systems alone, but also the rules that must govern them that will make this future possible. We need an automotive industry that is fully aware that it has to change and update quickly to this digital revolution. If they do not, non-EU companies, including non-car companies, will set the standards for this future.

Computers don’t like Grey Areas

Regulating is a hard business. The problem with our rules is that to reach a common political agreement, we often have to leave some grey areas within the law. Computers do not like grey areas. We must therefore energise cooperation between market actors to prepare the groundwork for the connected cars future among themselves and prepare proposals for very technical and exact reforms. If all stakeholders can work together, we as legislators can focus on removing barriers to this progress instead of having to create new regulations and rules which will be flawed by definition.

In total, what is clear is that there is still a lot of work ahead of us. What is important is that the many regulatory issues do not get lost in the excitement. We are all excited, but Rome was not built in a day.

Recommendations:

  • Engagement with telecoms, city planning and ICT engineers today and do not solely focus on the vehicle itself.
  • Ensure that technical engineers are aware of the world outside the lab and that laws (rules) will never be complete enough for programme perimetes.
  • Create a common industry lead vision of the future, including the laws around the vehicles.
  • Stakeholders should present their plans to regulators in a way that is technology neutral and do not favour one company over others. A rising tide lifts all boats.

About our author:

Dita Charanzová, MEP of the year for 2016, is the ALDE group spokesperson and ranking member for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) in the European Parliament. IMCO is leading regulatory committee in relations to autonomous and connected vehicles.

Dita Charanzová holds a PhD in European Affairs and has served as diplomat and trade expert for the Czech Republic.

Website:

http://www.charanzova.cz/en/

Should we teach driverless cars to break the law? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

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