Is regulation ready for driverless cars?

18 May 2017

Along with revolutionising the roads, driverless cars are set to present significant regulatory challenges. A team from the PETRAS Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things (IoT) Research Hub are collaborating with law firm Pinsent Masons to explore the issues.

Driverless car

No longer a sci-fi fantasy, driverless cars are increasingly close to becoming a reality on our roads. This represents a boundary-breaking step for the automotive industry, with technology companies like Samsung, Uber and Apple competing alongside traditional car manufacturers to launch driverless vehicles. The UK government is providing strong support for the research, development, and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles. There is also a more immediate demand for cars with network connectivity, or ‘connected cars’, with the market set to triple between 2017 and 2021.

Alongside the convenience for consumers, these emerging technologies also present significant practical, social and regulatory challenges, as the nature of driving, vehicle ownership and automotive manufacturing is transformed. Reflecting the rapid pace of change in this sector and to coincide with the Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit on 10 May, law firm Pinsent Masons have published a new edition of their 2016 white paper Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The emerging legal challenges.

Stephan Appt, Partner at Pinsent Masons explains:

“We published our first edition of this paper 12 months ago and in that short time we have already seen significant developments across the sector both in terms of the technologies and the regulatory frameworks. As the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles continues to create many new legal changes and challenges, it is important that these are brought to the fore.”

A team from the PETRAS IoT Research Hub, based at UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) as well as Cardiff University and WMG Cyber Security at the University of Warwick, have contributed a chapter on the readiness of current regulatory approaches to vehicle safety, ownership and liability, data protection and cybersecurity. The chapter reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the research conducted in the PETRAS IoT Hub, bringing together social and technical expertise from across academia and industry for impact-oriented insights, with Pinsent Masons being one of the main partners of the PETRAS project.

“Driverless cars present significant challenges to regulation”, says Dr Irina Brass, a member of the PETRAS team and Research Associate within UCL STEaPP. “As technologies continue to develop, vehicle manufacturers have to ensure that the sensor networks, software and communication systems used in their cars meet appropriate standards for safety and cybersecurity. However, many car manufacturers do not have cybersecurity expertise and are faced with the difficult task of ensuring that their suppliers meet appropriate data and system integrity standards”.

Professor Carsten Maple, Director of Research at the Cyber Security Centre at the University of Warwick and coordinator of Transport and Mobility projects in PETRAS, said

“The modern vehicle is such a complex system, with many suppliers contributing to its production, that the cyber security challenges cannot be met by one company; coordination across all those in development is required.  The fact that ensuring cyber security across supply chains, and liability in the event things go wrong, is not well understood makes this particularly challenging.”

The project underpins one of the main aims of the PETRAS Hub which is to encourage collaboration between academia and those working in industries around smart technologies. In the case of the regulatory challenges presented by connected and autonomous car technology, this will be essential in order to foster the cross-sectoral collaborations required to untangle such a complex regulatory issue – and one that will be vital to consumer safety and protection.

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