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On Autopilot

How self-driving vehicles fit into the legal landscape


IQ.HSE continues its series of HSE* expert reports on the legal regulation of new technologies. The first article in the series dealt with artificial intelligence. Today’s article looks at self-driving vehicles.

Is it lethal?

The first fatal accident involving a driverless vehicle occurred in Tempe, Arizona (USA) in March 2018. A Volvo equipped with semi-autonomous systems that Uber had been testing struck and killed a 49-year-old female pedestrian. Police investigators found no fault with the vehicle or the safety driver behind the wheel. The vehicle’s systems detected the need to apply emergency brakes prior to the collision, but could not because engineers had disabled the mechanism.

Uber settled out of court with the victim’s relatives, but as driverless vehicles move toward mass production, one question comes to the fore: How should such vehicles and their behaviour on the road be legally classified?

Driverless vehicles around the world are currently operating in test mode. In some countries, particularly the U.S., Germany, Britain, and Japan, trials are conducted on both closed test sites and public roads. However, vehicles with a high degree of autonomy – meaning that they require no driver or only minimal human input – are expected to hit the market after 2025. The use of such vehicles will require major changes to regulatory legislation.

The legal definition of ‘autonomous’

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) has developed a system for classifying the degree of a vehicle’s autonomy. It ranges from ‘0’ for ‘No Automation’ to ‘5’ for ‘Full Automation.’

 0 — No Automation. No automatic systems exercise control over the vehicle.

 1 — Driver Assistance. Some modes of autonomous control are present such as cruise control, automatic parking and lane departure warning. Emergency manual mode if automatic systems fail.

 2 — Partial Automation. Automatic steering, acceleration and braking. Emergency manual mode if automatic systems fail.

 3 — Conditional Automation. Vehicle operates automatically on certain roads, such as highways. Emergency manual mode if automatic systems fail.

 4 — High Automation. The driver’s attention is not required. The onboard systems solve all driving problems, even if the human fails to respond to an emergency.

 5 — Full Automation. The vehicle drives without any human assistance. (The person only selects the route and starts the system.)

Legislation for driverless vehicles is expected to develop according to the degree of their autonomy, changing little for cases of partial automation, and much more for Category 4 and 5 vehicles. ‘In countries planning to use the latter, there is a need for a comprehensive revision of the legal framework, primarily in terms of regulatory issues of artificial intelligence, information security, insurance, liability for traffic accidents, and conditions under which driverless vehicles receive access to public roads,’ commented the authors of the report. (Professor Mikhail Blinkin, Director of the HSE Institute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies [ITETPS] and ITETPS research associate Alexander Ryzhkov contributed to the section devoted to the ‘driverless’ market.)

From ethics to infrastructure

Some regulatory practises have been emerging in developed countries since the middle of this decade. These are not legislative measures, but special reports connected with government policy. One of the first, ‘Federal Automated Vehicles Policy: Accelerating the Next Revolution in Road Safety,’ was published in September 2016 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It primarily sets safety priorities and points to the need for a long-term dialog ue with manufacturers, the scientific community, and the public.

In 2017, the Ethics Commission of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure developed recommendations for automated driving. Its set of 20 ethical norms is based on the postulate of the value of human life. In particular, they state:

 automated transport is justified only if it will reduce the number of accidents caused by vehicles with drivers’;

 ‘In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited. It is also prohibited to offset victims against one another’;

 to determine responsibility for accidents, driverless vehicles should be equipped with ‘black boxes’;

The manufacturers and drivers of unmanned vehicles are responsible for all damages caused. The latter, according to a law that Germany adopted in early 2017, must be behind the wheel of the vehicle. This rule also applies in most U.S. states.

In addition to public policies and ethical codes, various countries have taken legal action to regulate access to public roads for driverless vehicles: Germany has adopted amendments to its law on road traffic and the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a bill making it easier for driverless vehicles to use roads while in test mode.

The requirements for infrastructure supporting driverless vehicles is gradually being put in place: modified roadways, road markings, signs, traffic lights, parking spaces, the development of data transfer technologies for the exchange of information between vehicles and infrastructure facilities, etc. For example, such an initiative was created by the National League of Cities that represents 19,000 municipalities in the U.S.

The Russian reality

In Russia, the Federal Road Agency is developing the infrastructure for driverless vehicles. The government’s ‘Caravan’ project calls for equipping a federal network of roads — including international corridors — by 2035.

The road map for improving legislation on driverless transport that was adopted in March 2018 will be in effect until that time. (It offers an action plan for implementing the AutoNet national technological initiative.)

That document acknowledges that Russia lacks the legal regulations and technical standards necessary for developing the market. The government intends to rectify the situation with the help of 75 measures, including:

 the establishment of Russian (or the adoption of relevant foreign) safety requirements for driverless vehicles and methods for their evaluation;

 the development of approaches for training drivers to control automobiles with a high degree of automation;

 the establishment of functional requirements for driver assistance systems (for parking, lane direction, signalling, driving in reverse, etc.);

 the establishment of network requirements for vehicles to interact with each other and with the infrastructure;

 the formulation of a conceptual framework and mandatory requirements for elements of road infrastructure involved in the operation of autonomous vehicles;

Plans call for accomplishing all of the above in the next two years. Only time will tell whether Russia’s often unpredictable reality will necessitate changes in those plans. For now, Russian developers of driverless vehicles must make do with existing conditions. According to recent news reports, the KAMAZ factory has entered the final phase of work on the creation of a driverless truck. (As many as five could be produced by 2019-2021, with mass production beginning as early as 2022); the conclusion of an agreement on co-operation on the implementation of robotic transport in Moscow (between the Moscow city government, KAMAZ, the NAMI research centre, and Yandex); an agreement between Yandex and the government of Tatarstan, as a result of which a self-driving taxi (with a driver behind the wheel) became part of the urban environment: Innopolis residents who had agreed to take part in the testing can use the cars for daily trips.


* The analytical report ‘World economic development in the context of technological challenges: new demands in regulatory legislation and individual practises’ was prepared by HSE experts at the request of the State Duma of Russia for the international forum on the Development of Parliamentarianism. The authors include representatives of the university’s leading research departments: theCentre of Development Institute, theInstitute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, theHSE – Skolkovo Institute for Law and Development, theInstitute of Legal Regulation, theInstitute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies, and theInstitute of Education.

Authors of the report: V. Mironov, A. Sokolov, Y. Radomirova, T. Meshkova, Y. Moiseichev, M. Krlyuk, A. Dulan, Y. Bikbulatova, K. Molodyko, M. Bashkatov, E. Galkova, M. Blinkin, A. Ryzhkov, A. Ivanov, D. Katalevsky, S. Yankevich, N. Knyaginina, Y. Simachev.


November 19, 2018