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How Will Governments Handle Autonomous Mobility?

Report finds differences—and sometimes indifference—to robo-cars
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Robotic vehicles are bound to redefine personal mobility. But how are governments dealing with the legal, technical and regulatory implications?

It depends, says a new report, Global Guide to Autonomous Vehicles 2020. The 89-page analysis by Denton, which describes itself as the world’s largest law firm, finds significant differences and strategies in seven countries: Australia, Canada, China, Germany, New Zealand, the U.K. and the United States.

The study consists of sections for each country, with descriptions of how each nation is (or isn’t) responding to the prospect of future fleets of robotic vehicles. Subsections cover regulation, testing and deployment, liability issues, data handling and telecommunications.

Patchwork Approach

In the U.S., for example, the absence of federal policy has spawned a patchwork of more than 40 state-level rules about testing and deploying AVs. Many policies are in the form of executive orders rather than state legislation.

Federal agencies had stepped back from regulating robotic vehicles in the interest of encouraging faster tech development. Now U.S. regulators are reviving the idea of easing their own federal safety restraints. But until they do, states will continue to define the AV industry’s relationship with government.

In Canada, the central government has been positive but cautious about developing and implementing policies that support robotic and connected vehicles. Like the U.S., the federal government has no umbrella policy for testing or operating such vehicles, and questions of liability are unclear in both countries.

Canada’s provinces and territories are responsible for regulating road traffic. The Denton report says they have no vehicle safety rules that either allow or prohibit AVs. The federal government is now developing guidelines to standardize future testing of Levels 3, 4 and 5 autonomous-driving technologies.

Good Vibes

China’s attitude toward EVs contrasts sharply with that of the U.S. and Canada. Autonomous transportation is a key part of the central government’s long-range economic plans.

Beijing already has enacted nationwide laws covering AV safety, assigned regulatory oversight to existing agencies, set national policy to administer tests on public roads, and is preparing streets for autonomous transit, the report says.

There are plenty of positive vibes about robotic transportation in Europe too. The report describes Germany as the region’s leader in autonomous transportation. The study points to a government structure that gives KBA, the federal Motor Transport Authority, ultimate oversight of all national, regional and local rules and regulations related to road traffic and transportation users.

Germany also has plenty of local technology talent to throw at AVs and connectivity, thanks to its highly developed auto and IT/telecommunication industries. The report notes that KBA is a part of the aptly structured Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, making it well positioned to facilitate activities between the two industries.

In the U.K., the government has seized on AVs and connectivity as paths to creating jobs in a burgeoning high-tech industry in England. The Denton report details various government initiatives, laws and strategies in support of that vision. What isn’t so clear is how much funding the government will use to help turn vision into reality.

Slow-Going Down Under

In Australia, the country’s National Transport Commission aims to develop an end-to-end regulatory system to support AV services. It is studying the challenges of modifying driving laws to accommodate self-driving vehicles.

The country does permit AV testing is permitted on a case-by-case basis. In general, regulations require an attentive backup driver onboard, although that requirement can be waived.

New Zealand, like Canada, has adopted a go-slow position on AVs. The country’s transport rules don’t specifically regulator or restrict such vehicles once they are licensed. The government supports AV testing, but it hasn’t indicated a commitment to dive into legislation regarding their widespread use.

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