Navigating the Legal Landscape of Self Driving and Electric Vehicles

May 9, 2023

There have been a few notable examples of far-sighted individuals accurately predicting dramatic technological innovations that have changed the world. Arthur C Clarke accurately predicted the internet as far back as 1974, Douglas Adams predicted Alexa (“the book” in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Some readers may remember KITT the robotic sports car with personality from the 1980s TV Show Knight Rider? Is it likely that in 10 years-time an electric driverless taxi (with or without its own personality) will silently arrive at your door and deliver you to work for a £2 fee? At the time of writing the technology currently exists to make this possible. While it is impossible to accurately peer into a crystal ball and see the future, we can be fairly sure that the future of road transport will transform in the next decade with the rise of electric vehicles (EV’s) and autonomous vehicles (AV’s) becoming an every-day reality.

There are some very important benefits to these new technologies. Currently on average every year 1650 people are killed on UK roads and 27,000 suffer catastrophic injuries. AV’s have been shown, counter-intuitively, to be significantly safer than conventional vehicles and conventional vehicles currently account for nearly 30% of carbon emissions. AV’s may also significantly benefit people made immobile through disabilities and AVs and EVs cause little noise pollution as well as significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional petrol engines. The impending revolution in road transport will, it seems, unquestionably improve our lives making roads safer and enabling us to accelerate towards a more efficient, cleaner, carbon-neutral world.

This automotive revolution presents a plethora of challenges and opportunities for companies and regulators. From a legal perspective it is imperative to strike a balance between promoting innovation and safety while ensuring that the gaps between existing laws and emerging technologies are bridged. Technology lawyers must navigate a complex and evolving landscape to help their clients seize the substantial opportunities to thrive in this very fast-growing market while framing and managing new risks and liabilities. Legal specialists will have an important role in the delivery of safe a rapid automotive revolution.

AV & EV Glossary
Autonomous Vehicle (AV) A vehicle that can operate without human intervention or input.
Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) A set of technologies designed to assist the driver with steering, braking, and acceleration, and to provide alerts for potential hazards on the road.
Connected Vehicle A vehicle that can communicate with other vehicles, infrastructure, and the internet.
LiDAR A remote sensing technology that uses laser beams to measure distances and create high-resolution 3D maps of an environment.
Machine Learning A type of artificial intelligence that allows machines to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.
PHEV Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle – a vehicle with both an electric and petrol engine.
Sensor Fusion The process of combining data from multiple sensors, such as cameras, LiDAR, and radar, to create a more complete and accurate understanding of the environment.
Range Anxiety The fear or concern that an electric vehicle will not be able to travel far enough on a single charge to meet the needs of the driver
Teleoperation The process of remotely controlling a vehicle, typically used for testing or in emergency situations.
V2X Vehicle-to-Everything communication, including Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), and Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P)

1.EV Challenge: Development of a Viable Charging Infrastructure

One of the most pressing challenges facing the EV industry is the development of charging infrastructure. Without a robust charging network, EV’s are not a viable transportation option. To overcome this challenge, governments and companies must work together to incentivise the installation of charging stations and ensure they are designed to minimise strain on the electric grid.

2. EV Challenge: Human Rights Abuses in Supply Chain

Companies must consider the ethical and compliance implications of sourcing rare earth metals such as cobalt which are used in EV batteries. Ensuring that supply chains are free from human rights abuses is essential to ensure corporate social responsibility, compliance with regulatory provisions such as the Modern Slavery Act and to maintain the integrity of the EV industry.

Unfortunately, the mining of these minerals in Congo has been associated with a range of human rights abuses, including child labour, forced labour, and unsafe working conditions.

There have also been concerns about environmental degradation and corruption related to the mining industry in the country. Efforts are being made to address the issues associated with mining in the country.

For example, some car manufacturers have committed to using only responsibly sourced materials in their batteries, and initiatives such as the Responsible Minerals Initiative aim to improve transparency and accountability in the mineral supply chain. Ensuring that supply chains are free from human rights abuses is essential for legal compliance and to maintain the integrity of the EV industry

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