2021 Conference Panel 1: Emerging Transportation Technologies, a Primer

The 2021 Law and Mobility Conference opened with a panel, moderated by Emily Frascaroli, that set out to begin answering three questions: What are emerging transportation technologies? What is the legal landscape surrounding these technologies? What are some challenges that these technologies face, in terms of both gaining popular use and promoting transportation equity?

Nira Pandya presented on the legal landscape of connected and automated vehicles (AV). The current legal landscape of AV falls into three buckets: federal law, nonbinding federal agency guidance, and state law. On the federal level, there is no comprehensive federal AV legislation. On the regulatory side, the Department of Transportation has promulgated nonbinding regulatory guidance to encourage collaboration, transparency, and integration of AVs into existing transportation systems, but there are no binding regulations on any aspect of AVs. Meanwhile, at least 29 states and D.C. have enacted AV-related legislation or executive orders, creating a varying and uncertain landscape for AVs throughout the U.S. Moving forward, the Biden administration seems generally committed to the development of innovative transportation technology and has appointed leaders whose backgrounds align well with this goal.

Jennifer A. Dukarski presented on data, a key driver of mobility. Data is already ubiquitous in our transportation technology, from conventional vehicles’ navigation and diagnostic systems to the account and payment systems for scooter shares. Data will only become more frequently and invasively collected as our transportation system becomes more connected and automated. Yet the U.S. lacks comprehensive federal legislation for data privacy, all the while there is a dearth of regulations and legislation at both the state and federal levels that restrict how transportation companies can use our data. States such as California have developed broad, cross-cutting data privacy laws, and leaders in the field speculate that federal data privacy legislation could be introduced as soon as this fall.

Bryant Walker Smith discussed how emerging transportation must focus on both technology and the law being means to serve social needs such as increased transportation safety and equity, rather than ends in themselves. He outlined the safe systems approach, which focuses on both the vehicle and infrastructure aspects of transportation being designed to maximize social goals, such as safety, through design and policy.

A contentious issue with emerging transportation that the panelists highlighted was the reality that the companies creating transportation technology will, for better or worse, be driving the regulation of this technology. In this vein, one of the challenges of promoting transportation equity through policy or otherwise is weighing just how much pressure to put on AV companies to solve social injustices. Are we striving for equity in AV because it is better than striving for equity in more traditional modes of transportation, or are we doing this just because it is more convenient than dismantling the inequities built into our current transportation system? Given that transportation inequity is tied to a variety of broad and overlapping historical policies – housing, insurance, and urban development, to name a few – how much pressure can we really place on an AV or scooter company to resolve these social problems?

Finally, in describing the challenges to widespread adoption of emerging transportation technology, the panelists converged on the importance of transparency and uniformity.  For transportation systems like AV to work, the technology needs to be seamless, which will be challenging in the absence of a comprehensive federal framework. Promoting transparency from AV manufacturers about safety, data, and equity issues will be essential in developing consumer trust. This trust will then serve two purposes: getting more people on board with using these technologies and getting more people to advocate for their elected officials to pass good policies regulating these technologies.

The panel wrapped up with brief discussions of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on a “Framework for Automated Driving System Safety” – which has had its comment period extended to April 1 – and of spectrum issues with connected vehicles.

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