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Law.com: In-House Lawyers, Rev Up for Self-Driving Vehicles

February 03, 2021

In Law.com’s “What’s Next” column, O’Melveny counsel Jason Orr discussed the importance of automated vehicles amid the pandemic, the regulations in-house counsel should watch, and the Department of Transportation’s plans to update its guidance on Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

The pandemic has underscored the importance of automated vehicles as a timely necessity when it comes to self-isolation, delivering critical goods, and working around labor shortages. “There are also a lot of interesting uses for automated vehicles outside of roads or concrete surfaces,” Orr said. “You can have automated vehicles used in mines, we’re seeing that now. Also more and more automated agriculture equipment, automated tractors, and so forth. So these technologies are very critical and I don’t see that importance going away.”

Orr added that the “more controlled the environment, the easier it is technologically to deploy an automated vehicle.” He noted that automated vehicles have a proven track record and are becoming “much more nimble and capable of understanding and responding to complex advancements like city streets.”

With that evolution comes a new set of regulatory concerns. Orr described the legal rules surrounding automated vehicles as “still in the early stages,” telling Law.com that “a lot of work [has been] done at the federal level to provide guidance and we’re seeing, more recently, more rule-making efforts from the federal government.”

As for what in-house counsel can expect: a lot of uncertainty. “From the client’s perspective, the person in-house, you don’t want to end up developing a product that can’t be launched. On the other hand, you don’t want to wait forever to deploy technology that is right for commercialization,” Orr said. “When you’re navigating these kinds of dynamic legal environments, where the rules aren’t always laid out before you, it’s important to have lawyers who can work with you, understand what your business is and understand how the law might develop and how you can help guide the development of the law.”

Looking ahead, while acknowledging that widespread adoption won’t happen all at once, Orr does expect to see companies rolling out the technology and deploying it in wider and wider spaces and more complex environments. “I’ve seen a lot of companies that are aiming at deployment within the next five years or so,” he said.

As this progress continues, the advantages of automated vehicles could extend beyond logistics to fewer accidents and benefits for the environment. “Tens of thousands of people die on the roads in the United States alone and automated vehicles can be an important part of addressing that problem and reducing the number of road deaths that we see on our streets,” Orr observed. “And these technologies can be part of growing our economy and improving our environment. Many of the automated vehicles being developed are emission-less vehicles.”

Law.com subscribers can read the full article here.