EDITORIAL: Prepare for driverless vehicles

Legislation and regulation needed before next wave of transportation technology arrives

The reason governments are scrambling to regulate the vaping industry is because they allowed the industry to explode before they had an opportunity to study the physical effects, the psychological impacts, the impacts on children and the creation of a black market.

Failure to anticipate is the reason governments are struggling to rein in assault weapons and the internet.

But when it comes to autonomous vehicles, vehicles that essentially can drive themselves, the government still has a chance to get out in front of what’s likely to be the next major technological wave in the transportation industry.

This technology has the potential to reinvent the mass transportation of goods, local delivery of products and packages, ride-sharing/taxi services and private personal use.

And if the government doesn’t anticipate the potential problems associated with these vehicles and begin to formulate laws and rules to address those issues before they become common on our roads, we could soon be scrambling to deal with some serious negative fallout.

Some in government and the legal community are already thinking ahead.

The New York State Bar Association in June created a task force to study the impact of the impending wave of autonomous vehicles and has begun holding forums on the topic featuring industry executives and other experts in the field.

The association is focused on what regulations might be needed, review of potential privacy and data protection issues that might arise with the expanded use of these vehicles, safety concerns, and the impact on licensing, injury and insurance law.

The goal of this effort is to make recommendations to state and federal lawmakers and regulators on how they can prepare for this innovation.

State lawmakers are also starting to get into the act.

One pending bill (A301) would require the state Department of Labor to study the potential impact of driverless vehicles on occupations and employment. Several bills (A1554, A7980, S6014A) have been introduced that would establish a state autonomous vehicle task force. (The Bar Association’s advance work might prove invaluable to this type of task force.)

And yet another bill (A8460/S6052B) would authorize the state commissioner of transportation to study the designation of private roads for testing of such vehicles.

All of this study and legislation is at the beginning stage. But it can’t stay there.

This technology could come at us fast, and our government officials and legal community need to be ready to cope with it.

Benjamin Franklin once said that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. In so many areas, government has failed to prepare for the next innovation.

Let’s let autonomous vehicles be the exception.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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