Developers of driverless cars around the world are facing a major hurdle; the absence of a legal framework that will allow their creations to be used on the road. This Briefing Note looks at how prepared Ireland is for the testing and arrival of driverless cars.
THE GLOBAL PICTURE
In the race towards driverless technology being available to the public, Singapore is leading the field, with the first ever public trial of robo-taxi services launched in August 2016. The company behind the trial (nuTonomy) was the first company to get permission from the Singapore government to test the cars in small public area, and has now begun tests with passengers. The cars are still manned by a driver during this testing phase, however, the company intends to roll out a fully automated taxi service once approved.
The United States has recently begun to prioritise the introduction of regulatory provisions in order to advance the development of self-driving cars. As of June 2016, some sixteen states had introduced Bills relating to automated vehicles. While these bills initially tended to take a cautious approach to the regulation of automated vehicles, subsequent revisions and reforms have revealed a willingness to put in place more progressive parameters.
In California, for example, fifteen companies currently hold permits to test driverless vehicles within the State. In 2015, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") released draft regulations for the public deployment of autonomous vehicles. These regulations included requirements that the autonomous vehicles had to have a driver capable of taking the wheel, eliminating the possibility of a fully driverless car. Most recently the DMV indicated that the more advanced self-driving cars will no longer be required to have a licenced driver at the wheel if federal officials deem them sufficiently safe.
Until recently, the absence of U.S government guidance had left the burden on state DMVs to manage the introduction of driverless technology, however, new federal guidelines (issued jointly by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) on the testing and deployment of driverless cars have now been issued. While the guidelines do not explore the specific mechanics of regulation, they indicate that the Department of Transport will take responsibility for regulating the driving hardware and software, and have devised a model state policy which...