Over the next decade, “self-driving” as a feature of transportation will become as commonplace as cruise control. Forecasts suggest that by 2050, the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry could be worth a staggering $7 trillion. To put this in perspective, that’s almost twice the size of Germany’s entire economy. Like any new technology, self-driving cars represent a significant new opportunity. But they also pose significant new risks. Before AVs can become ubiquitous, they will first need to be regulated. And regulating self-driving cars remains a complicated challenge.
The truth is that self-driving cars are not as radical as they might seem. AV technology builds on many existing innovations impacting related industries including factory production (machine automation), telecommunications (information technology), aircraft control systems (autopilot) and terrestrial navigation (GPS). In fact, there is a counter-intuitive analogy that makes driverless cars less inexplicable. Long before the arrival of self-driving cars, there was the elevator. Elevators transformed how humans physically move through buildings, eventually eliminating the need for human operators altogether.
Like elevators, AV technology will completely transform urban mobility. The expectation is that AVs will provide needed relief to overloaded transportation systems with driverless vehicles freeing more than 250 million hours of commuting time each year. Driverless vehicles will help smooth traffic flow and reduce congestion by automating transportation across ever-advancing telecommunications networks. But even as the capabilities of AVs continue to evolve, it’s not a given that consumers will choose to buy them. What is more likely is that the on-demand nature of driverless cars will reshape the transportation industry altogether.
Regulating AVs in the United States
Erecting effective policies and regulations for managing the mainstream adoption of self-driving cars remains a complicated challenge. Technological progress may be exponential, but legislative progress remains incremental. At least 41 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have considered legislation related to autonomous vehicles. Last year, the House of Representatives passed autonomous vehicle legislation H.R. 3388 to create uniform standards for AV. However, Democratic senators signaled their concerns that the technology remains immature and underdeveloped.
These segments are pulled from an article originally published on Forbes.com. It is authored by Daniel Araya, Senior Partner of the World Legal Summit.