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8 Autonomous Driving – Political, Legal, Social, and Sustainability Dimensions

8.1 Introduction

Autonomous driving (self-driving) vehicles, once just a science fiction dream, are a growing reality. Although not commercially available, rapid advancements in technology are creating a situation where technological development needs are moving beyond the regulatory environment. Technological developments have put pressure on governments to make regulatory changes permitting on-road testing of autonomous vehicles. Nevada became the first government worldwide to provide licenses for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state albeit under strict conditions. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles requires that “when autonomous vehicles are eventually made available for public use, motorists will be required to obtain a special driver license endorsement” [8]. Other states have followed Nevada's lead. New regulations in the United States have provoked the question of whether regulatory changes are necessary in Europe as well. This chapter examines the emerging competition among automobile manufacturers related to the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles and their political and regulatory implications. Special attention is paid to the role of industrial stakeholders and political actors in relation to the development, uptake, and regulation of autonomous vehicle technologies. This is done from a comparative perspective considering developments in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and Japan. The different framings of autonomous vehicle technologies and their potential contributions are also considered.

8.2 Autonomous driving from an innovation policy perspective

Increasing vehicle automation can be understood as an innovation process that may eventually lead to autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles. Innovations can be classified according to the kind of innovation (e. g. product, process, organizational), the phases of innovation (invention, innovation, diffusion) or the magnitude of innovation (ranging from incremental to radical). A variety of influencing factors shape innovation processes. These include actors and actor networks, institutional frameworks, and technological developments both inside the innovation system and external to it. There may be co-evolutionary development of (technological) innovations and influencing factors [35]. Political intervention is one factor that can influence innovation processes and is our focus below.

Automated technologies have been incorporated into cars for decades, including anti-lock brakes, rear view alarm systems, lane departure warning systems, and adaptive cruise control. Information and communication technologies are likely to make possible the rapid deployment of some automated technologies (as is already the case with automated braking systems). Automated driving technologies could improve emergency response, enhance public transport systems, and optimize intermodal passenger transport.

Autonomous vehicle technology is now rapidly developing as autonomous driving vehicles are tested on the road. Various future development paths are possible as indicated by the use cases described in the chapters by Wachenfeld (Ch. 2, see also Beiker in this book Ch. 14). Autonomous vehicle technology development paths range from incremental (e. g. automatic braking systems and transmission systems) to larger (automated crash avoidance safety systems and autonomous valet parking) to revolutionary changes to existing systems (fully autonomous vehicles in regular traffic) (for a definition and nomenclature see e. g. [25]). Depending on the state of a technology and the degree to which it has been implemented, there are different policy implications and regulatory intervention needs.

Different technological and use paths place different demands on the policy system. Incremental technological changes can usually be addressed with relatively minor changes to existing regulatory frameworks. More radical technological changes, such as the fully autonomous vehicle, will require deeper regulatory interventions as well as societal awareness raising and acceptance. The information and communication technologies (ICT) used in autonomous vehicles could also raise various questions related to data protection and storage although this will depend very much on the kind of technologies employed (Ch. 24).

Certainly one of the changes visible in relation to the emergence of autonomous vehicle technology is the emergence of new stakeholders. The technologies involved have widened the field of actors engaged in transport policies and led to the formation of new political coalitions. The ICT industries are important stakeholders in autonomous vehicle technologies and policies. Auto manufacturers and other players (like Google) are both in competition in the development of prototypes and in co-operation with each other in an effort to achieve a more favorable regulatory environment for the testing of autonomous vehicle technology.

The commercialization of autonomous vehicles is envisioned in the coming years by some manufacturers although there is considerable uncertainty as to when and if the technology will be made commercially available any time soon. Conditions for commercialization may also vary significantly country to country depending on road traffic conditions. While there are many questions as to whether commercialization is realistic in the near future, expert communities are urging regulators to prepare. In some jurisdictions (especially in the United States) early preparatory steps for potential deeper regulatory changes are being taken.

The speed and quality of advancements in autonomous driving technologies will impact demands for political intervention and steering. Many political interventions are driven by technological advancements. In the case of incremental technology development, there may be a parallel process of incremental regulatory changes, licensing decisions, or increase or decrease in financial or other political support schemes.

Incremental technological changes can be researched from the perspective of systems innovation theory, where innovations are understood as a result of multilateral interaction processes among firms, industries, organizations, and institutional frameworks [13], [14]. In the case of more revolutionary technological developments, which result in more disruptive changes to the status quo, politicians may be forced to make rapid and major regu-latory decisions with little preparatory or learning time and with few existing experiences to draw upon.

In some cases, political actors may decide to try to accelerate the development of certain technologies and their large scale application. We have seen examples of policy-driven development with, for example, nuclear and renewable energies. In these cases, governments set incentives to support the development of these technologies, e. g. with research and development funding, support schemes, loans, the provision of infrastructure, and the taking over of liability risks even though in some countries, there were later decisions to phase out the use of a particular technology. There are also various examples in the transport sector, where state actors aimed at paving the way for certain technological choices. Apart from providing road infrastructure and thereby supporting individual automotive transport systems, e-mobility is a recent example of an attempt by policy-makers to help boost the implementation of a particular technology on a larger scale [9].

Policy makers do not typically like to intervene in the workings of market economies but at times may feel pressured to do so. As Edquist formulates it, “[t]here must be a 'problem' – which is not automatically solved by market forces and capitalist actors – for public intervention to be considered” [14].

Different factors may be behind a decision to support new technologies or technological applications. Policy makers may choose to promote a technology's development in order to support the competitiveness of a domestic industry, in response to problem-pressures (e. g. safety or environmental factors), to experiment with new technological possibilities, or in reaction to international developments. As Edler and his colleagues put it: “Public innovation policy aims to strengthen the competitiveness of the economy or of selected sectors, in order to increase social welfare through knowledge creation and economic success” [12]. Numerous studies illustrate the importance of political intervention especially in the field of environmental policy innovation (see e. g. [30], [31], [32]).

There are several ways political actors can support the development and diffusion of new technologies. They may encourage and support the development of expert networks, finance research and development, create demand for a certain technology (e. g. by setting up support schemes or mandating government purchasing of a technology), and, by providing basic infrastructure (for a summary of approaches see [35]). Research support has been relevant in the development of autonomous vehicle technologies as well. States that are lagging behind in the technology are now scrambling to catch up. Since innovations go through various phases (see e. g. [26], [36]), governmental interventions may also be limited to particular innovation stages of a technology.

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