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Feb 10, 2016

If governments think regulating Uber is complicated, just wait for self-driving cars

February 10, 2016

New Mowat report says automated vehicles are coming fast and governments need to plan now

Driverless cars and other vehicles are coming quickly, and Canadian governments have only a few years to develop new policy and regulatory frameworks to effectively address challenges and take advantage of significant opportunities posed through automated vehicles technology, says a new Mowat Centre report.

“Self-driving cars could be just five to 10 years away from being ready for public roads, and they can now be tested on streets here in Ontario. Soon it won’t be a question of whether the technology is ready, but whether our public policies are,” said Noah Zon, one of the report’s authors. “Governments should now develop a new policy framework that will shape whether this technology brings significant social and economic benefits or compounds challenges of sprawl and economic dislocation.”

The report notes that automated vehicles could provide many benefits, including reducing the number of accidents, expanding mobility for people who cannot currently drive due to disability or age, increasing environmental sustainability with more efficient driving, opening up urban space currently used for parking, and increasing productivity by reducing time spent behind the wheel.

However, the authors argue that government inaction could exacerbate potential challenges that are likely to occur as a result of the rise of automated vehicle technology. “While fully-automated vehicles could provide significant economic opportunities, they would also disrupt certain jobs, such as truck and taxi drivers, while also impacting public transportation, insurance and legal industries,” said co-author Sara Ditta. “Therefore, governments need to start thinking now about how they will respond to these technologies.”

Beyond our roads, the authors argue some industries could be drastically transformed by this emerging technology. For the insurance industry, for example, fewer crashes would mean less risk to insure, shrinking the industry, while premium prices differentiated by age and gender and costly long-term penalties for past accidents could be reduced with fewer human drivers at the wheel. But this transformation may also require rethinking how liability is assigned in case of accidents.

Widespread adoption of automated vehicles would require significant adjustments for governments in their own operations, including clear rules around how law enforcement can access data or control automated vehicles, according to the report. Governments will also need to take into account how automated vehicles will change our infrastructure needs, including smart infrastructure technology that communicates with vehicle sensors and long-term decisions about what kind of transportation infrastructure we need.

Overall, the report argues that public policy will play a critical role in determining how the potential benefits or unintended consequences of automated vehicles will shape our society. The report recommends several principles to guide governments in how to approach the questions raised by this emerging technology.

  • Governments should avoid trying to predict exactly which technology will be adopted by consumers, and instead policy should make room for a variety of technology options.
  • Policy should be developed through cooperation across different levels of government and with industry.
  • Policy should be created in a transparent manner that builds trust in the new technology.
  • Governments should invest in multi-use infrastructure that could support automated vehicles in the future.