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June 01, 2018

SciTech Tackles the Latest Revolution: Autonomous Vehicles

David Z. Bodenheimer

The U.S. Department of Transportation described autonomous vehicles (AV) as “the greatest transportation revolution since the popularization of the personal automobile nearly a century ago.” Like all revolutions, winners and losers will emerge. And like the earlier Model T revolution, the horse-and-buggy laws will lag the AV technology’s dragster pace.

AV’s Economic Drivers. With a $7 trillion global market looming, the AV revolution is financially inevitable. For the car data industry alone, McKinsey projects a $750 million global business by 2030. Efficiencies and savings include reducing 2.7 billion unproductive hours on American highways, saving $488 billion from injuries and deaths on the road, and boosting U.S. productivity by $448 billion.

AV’s Winners and Losers. With fully automated roadways, up to 5 million truckers, taxi operators, and other drivers may be out of work. Some sectors and professions will contract (e.g., traffic police and auto repair), while others will surge (e.g., digital media, electronics, and freight transport). And perhaps billboards for traffic lawyers (“Had an accident? Call me”) will vanish.

AV’s Global Tire-Print. As world markets compete for the $7 trillion prize, the AV revolution is much broader than the auto manufacturers who already have heeded the AV green flag. The AV economics have attracted not only new manufacturers (e.g., Tesla and Rivian), but also passenger companies (e.g., Uber and Waymo), network leaders (e.g., AT&T and Ericsson), and other high-tech global names (e.g., Amazon, Microsoft, Hitachi, and Symantec). And this race to the AV checkered flag will take place not only on the streets, but also at sea and in the air with autonomous ships and aircraft, thus expanding the market and increasing the stakes.

SciTech’s AV Leadership. In recent years, SciTech has showcased its expertise on AV issues. At the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting, Steve Wu led a panel on “Driverless Cars in the Fast Lane: Liability Ahead!” For the first IoT National Institute, Tim Goodman (Assistant Chief Counsel, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) discussed federal efforts to promote AV safety and deployment, while the second IoT National Institute featured Cheri Falvey’s mock trial illustrating risk allocation and emerging legal issues for the AV market. Similarly, SciTech presentations at the 2017 RSA conference included “Look Ma, no hands! Risk and liabilities in the era of Autonomous Cars” addressing AV and the law.

SciTech and the Future of AV Law. As today’s edition of The SciTech Lawyer illustrates, AV technology is hitting the market well ahead of international and national laws, regulations, and standards originally designed for T-Models, Edsels, and muscle cars. In addition to the thought-provoking issues and AV expertise demonstrated in this edition, SciTech has the organization and leaders well suited to the heavy lifting needed to strike the critical balance between law, science, and technology on AV issues—including our committees tackling emerging IoT developments, privacy conundrums, insurance technology puzzles, information security risks, and more.

While the vehicles may be on autopilot, the law should not be. SciTech must seize this opportunity to bring its unique and deep expertise to shaping the law during this AV revolution. 

David Z. Bodenheimer

David Z. Bodenheimer ([email protected]) is a Government Contracts Group partner and litigator in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office.