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The Laws Regarding Self-Driving Cars Impact the Field of Engineering

The Laws Regarding Self-Driving Cars Impact the Field of Engineering

  1. Abstract

This paper employs a comprehensive approach to examining the relationship between self-driving cars laws and engineers. The primary purpose of the paper involves investigating how the absence of the rules and regulations regarding autonomous cars impact the field of engineering. The paper achieves this successfully through a systemic review of recent literature on the topic, especially those that revolve around security and safety concerns during the development, as well as the introduction stages of the autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. Given the findings from the studies, the paper has established that, While different stakeholders from across the globe can see the rapid advanced in self-driving car technology, the engineering industry through responsible companies might have difficulty accomplishing the already established goals because there are incomprehensive laws regarding AV. The absence of adequate and industry-specific laws undermine individual the field of engineering since individual engineers lack reference points to guide security, safety, transparency, cost, and privacy aspects of self-driving cars. The paper concludes by presenting five major recommendations for all the responsible stakeholders. 








The Laws Regarding Self Driving Cars Impact the Field of Engineering

  1. Introduction

New technologies witnessed in the development of robotics, as well as communication, continue to have a substantial influence on people’s lifestyle, including transportation. These technologies have since led to the emergence of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, which seeks to ensure a significant reduction in pollution, crashes, congestion, energy consumption, in addition to increasing transport accessibility. Given the rapidly developing AV technology, car companies from developing, as well as developed economies plan to introduce self-driving cars on their streets by 2020. According to Bagloee et al. (2016), the introduction of this fleet of autonomous cars will be followed by selling self-driving vehicles to individual buyers between the years 2022 and 2024.[1] While different stakeholders from across the globe can see the rapid advanced in self-driving car technology, the engineering industry through responsible companies might have difficulty accomplishing the already established goals because there are incomprehensive laws regarding AV.

AV technology has and continues to face legislation crisis; given lack of effective laws and regulates to govern self-driving car production from the perspectives of electrical engineering, hardware engineering, transportation science, software engineering, ethics, as well as information technology (IT). According to recent empirical studies and surveys, many state officials in the United States (U.S.) cannot tell whether or not the country will have the much-needed federal policies and associated laws for AVs by 2020.[2] Sensibly speaking, this uncertainty means that the automakers’ aggressive schedule is more likely to fail.

In the face of the identified and other uncertainties about the efficacy of AV technology, the major car companies, including Tesla have placed great emphasis on lobbying all the responsible stakeholders, including state, federal, and local governments to invest in diligent creation of self-driving car laws. According to these automakers, the laws in question can have either far-reaching positive or negative effects on how they go about designing cars, as well as extra guidance systems. For example, the laws will play a central role in defining what types of sensors and cameras, which the companies will have to install with the sole purpose of operating on the roads legally.

Lack of AV sector-specific laws has undermined engineers’ ability to incorporate safety, transparency, security, as well as privacy standards in their designs. With this confusion, states and automakers have failed to understand how any final federal rules and regulations will determine their own laws.[3] Typically, federal laws must remain flexible since all levels of government, and key industry players, including self-driving car manufactures, must be in the best possible position to define their rules since the road, terrain, as well as weather conditions, differ from one state to another. Given the fact that state laws become murky and unreliable at times, all these stakeholders are yet to agree on appropriate guidelines to facilitate the development of AVs. According to Danks and London (2017), the conundrum of whether AV technology is achievable has so far led to the widely held conclusion that players must take an incredible amount of work to formulate proper rules necessary for governing self-driving cars.

Critics of AVs argue that automakers and their technology experts or engineers tend to overemphasize the value, as well as promise or benefits associated with AV technology. In particular, people in the technology industry have overlooked the enormous complexities involved in the whole process of writing, integrating, and implementing laws regarding their innovations.[4][5][6] For this reason, the AV technology advances rapidly in the absence of relevant rules and regulations to govern proper implementation or exaction of the technological program in the streets. The regulatory issues at the local, federal, and state levels adversely affect engineers, slowing the advancement of self-driving cars. 

  1. Narrative

Present-day regulatory instruments or laws for transportation systems in developed and developing countries are based on the conditions and designs of human-driven vehicles. According to Holstein, Dodig-Crnkovic, & Pelliccione as the development, as well as the introduction of automating cars proceed, legislation should under significant changes and constant updates.[7] In other words, there is little to no progress when it comes to aligning rules and regulations to the emergence of self-driving cars. As stated earlier, recent research has since established that the current regulations for human-controlled cars lack the much-needed capacity to adequately govern AVs, especially when it comes to security, safety, costs, transparency, and privacy issues. 

In their recent study, Danks and London found that existing author of America’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) remains insufficient and lacks the scope of the various safety needs of the automation process in the automobile industry.[8] AVs pose a broad range of cost, security, safety, privacy, and transparency challenges, which require comprehensive laws to govern both their production and introduction on the roads. The problems presented by these legal domains serve as an existing and potential barrier to engineering, as individual engineers and their respective companies lack a clear and result-driven guideline to help with the designing process, cost sharing, and installation of security features. 

  1. Laws on Costs

Besides the struggle involved in the addition of IT infrastructure, as well as advanced levels of technology to intersections and any given city roads, the whole process of making streets smarter and safer to deal with a variety of self-driving cars remains marred with a great deal of controversy. According to Holstein, Dodig-Crnkovic, and Pelliccione, city officials, the federal government, and automakers all agree that there is a need for sensors and cameras to complement street signs and lights.[9] In essence, these sensors will play a fundamental role in communicating with self-driving cars, especially when approaching intersections. The cameras will also add value to alleviate accident incidences on the roads since they enhance the localized approach to intelligence when it comes to crash-avoidance. Despite this unanimous agreement among stakeholders, they have failed to come to a consensus on who will be responsible for the cost incurred.[10] Sensibly speaking, the lack of a clear and concise law to govern the installation of these additional safety devices continues to undermine the work of engineers and the entire engineering industry. 

In addition to the absence of comprehensive laws on the costs of new security devices, the industry still lacks effective rules to help with the regulation of prices of hardware-software systems. In particular, recent debates and current discussions have revolved around ultra-sonic sensors and laser radars, with some stakeholders advocating for the former, while others are supporting the adoption of the latter.[11] When compared to cameras, laser radars delivery the much-needed high quality data even when on the road during diverse weather conditions. However, this high-level accuracy comes at a higher cost than ultra-sonic sensors, which are not only less accurate but also inexpensive and sensitive under the rain and associated bad weather conditions.[12] Given the absence of a properly defined legislation to guide car manufacturers in choosing sensors, engineers only install what their employers or companies have purchased. In this context, a car manufacturer with limited resources is more likely to choose an inexpensive sensor with the sole purpose of minimizing operation costs. Very simply, this will increase the likelihood of accidents, as well as technical errors. The passengers or drivers in self-driving cars will become inconvenienced in such situations.

  1. Security Laws

In their research, Holstein, Dodig-Crnkovic, and Pelliccione argue that security serves as one of the crucial aspects of autonomous cars.[13] In other words, software security remains a crucial and fundamental requirement for the introduction of self-driving cars since the primary purpose of their development revolves around reducing crashes and increasing the accessibility of transport. In response to these security needs, the United Kingdom’s (UK) transport department has since published one of the widely adopted documents, containing key principles tasked with the responsibility of ensuring cyber vehicle security, especially for automate, as well as connected vehicles. At the same time, similar documents have so far been created in the U.S., including SAFE Code best practices.[14] Despite these and other security features, car systems, including GPS, as well as sensors continue to experience attacks from cyber criminals, who prioritize manipulating their behavior. The widespread presence of these attacks shows that present-day security measures are insufficient to address the dangers associated with self-driving vehicles.

Although attacks are inevitable, the lack of effective security laws regarding self-driving vehicles have and is more likely to continue making the AV technology and autonomous cars inefficient and insecure, respectively. The absence of rules and regulations to govern minimum security thresholds means that engineers will always rely on estimations and assumptions when designing and installing security features for each of their self-driving cars.[15] In other words, engineers do not access to guidelines, which define how much secure an AV’s system should be. In the case of aircrafts, aero engineers depend a great deal on black boxes when an incident, such as a crash occurs. Conversely, the self-driving car sector lacks regulations to determine whether these new vehicles should have a similar device. 

Concerning other sensitive security issues, developers of self-driving cars tend to operate at individual levels and enjoy a great deal of discretion since there are no laws to define and govern what constitutes software updates and connection and disconnection. On a broader note, the engineering sector and other responsible stakeholders, including governments, consumers, and security experts have not yet agreed on whether self-driving vehicles should drive even when they do not have new or the latest versions of software.[16] Additionally, players continue to differ on whether to create laws that will allow complete connection or disconnection of AVs. On one side, security experts have argued that disconnecting self-driving cars from the network makes them more secure. On the other side, connecting the car system to a given network fix potential technical problems by ensuring human lives are not endangered. For example, connected vehicles remain well positioned to receive vital pieces of information from command centers and other systems.[17] In this situation, engineers in the industry continue to work in an environment characterized by an unresolved issue due to a lack of clear rules. 

  1. Safety Laws 

Many road users are not comfortable with sharing the road with cars that are not driven by humans. The initial assumption was that self-driven cars are free of error. Thus, the software cannot err and cause an accident. This was proven wrong when an uber that was self-driving was involved in a crash. This indicated that these cars are prone to accidents, just like human-driven vehicles are.[18] The accident was not significant, and there were no human or non-human losses. However, this shed light on the safety concerns of non-human driven cars. In this accident, the driver was deemed to be at fault, and in case there were any human fatalities, then they would have sued for negligence,

Another safety issue is whether the cars are ready to handle real-life scenarios. The Law Commission of England acknowledges this situation, and together with the Scottish Law Commission, aim to come up with ways that will enable self-driving cars to adapt to the Highway Code. This is because road rules were made for humans, and human beings can reason, and make decisions depending on the situation.

On the other hand, self-driving cars and computer automated, to mean that they follow commands. Thus, there is no telling what will happen if an emergency occurs and the vehicle has to swerve or mount the pavement. All these are concerns that touch on the safety of other road users, and rightfully so. In other words, self-driving cars pose a considerable risk to other road users, and there are no safety laws to determine liability in a case such a vehicle is at fault. England’s law commissioner agrees that lawmakers should make laws that ensure an environment whereby self-driving cars can operate properly, and not endanger public safety. Civil and criminal liability laws should also be formulated to provide clarity on who is to blame in case an accident occurs.[19] Presently, it is not clear who will be to blame in case drivers drive these cars in a way that will lead to a crash that Is similar to a typical road accident, for instance, if they drive while drunk. There should be guidelines also on the amount of training these drivers receive, and if all road drivers are supposed to undertake further training.

  1. Privacy Laws 

Self-driving cars will be able to communicate with each other, and whoever else has permission to access their data. The murky situation here is who else can get the cars to communicate with them. The risk that hackers can access information and remotely control cars is not theoretical; it is genuine. There were reports a couple of years ago that Gray Hat Hackers had remotely accessed automobiles and commanded them. This is a scary fact, considering there is no legislation to oversee privacy concerns as the industry takes off.[20] Currently, there have not been any reports whereby cars have been illegally accessed. However, it is a known fact that technology has loopholes, and they can be used to access private data. The several network connection points are the weak links in self-driving cars and could be used by hackers to access private data. They also provide a site where bugs could be placed and cause widespread damage. States and national bodies have started formulating laws that will take care of privacy concerns. Industry standards are also being streamlined to ensure privacy is given priority. This will protect consumers, and the data they give out to the cars.

Another thing is consent- it should be forefront, to prevent the probability of a car company being sued. Generally speaking, privacy laws are not yet established, yet privacy is a significant concern, due to the amount of data these cars will be collecting. In the wrong hands, this data can be used to harm people and systems. The risk that the data can be accessed is enough to make people involved work harder and make strict industry guidelines to ensure privacy. 

  1. Transparency Laws 

There are two sides of the coin when it comes to transparency laws- one side is that sharing all the data will enable a safer working environment, where cars will be able to communicate with each other. On the other hand, some car companies are not on board with sharing all their data, for commercial purposes. The secrecy with the workings of the cars, especially the sensor and robot- car regulation can shape public acuity about the industry.[21] Since it is a new industry, that involves public safety, people will look to see if they can be trusted. The uber incident where one passenger was killed raised questions as to whether the sensing system failed, and was unable to recognize the pedestrian. When company executives were called upon to discuss transparency laws, they declined. Other companies like Zoox agreed to address the issue. However, this raised eyebrows about transparency laws, and how they can be applied to this nascent industry. Alan Kornhauser from Princeton University acknowledges that deaths caused by robots cannot be prevented, because the technology is not perfect. The recent accident is an indication that these companies should share data, with the public and researchers. This should not just be data from the black box; it should be system data as well. This will enable the public to see the evolution of safety measures and build trust in the industry. Speculation should not be allowed to be rife in a system that puts other road users at risk. Thus, transparency laws should be enacted, and they should enable the data to be shared freely. If the data exposes intellectual information, then be it, because safety is of importance, and it should be given the attention it deserves. The CEO of Nutonomy is on board with information sharing to be as transparent as possible. According to him, sharing knowledge with a competitor is risky, because one might give away their competitive edge. However, the safety of human beings is beyond the tradeoff for information; thus, transparency should be encouraged. For instance, self-driving cars could use the method airlines use- they privately share data. In the event of an accident, the data is made public, and investigations can be conducted, and the findings released to the public, this builds trust on airlines. Advocates for the Highway and Auto Safety are lobbying the government to set up a public database, where all defects will be posted. The site will also post other operational challenges, just like the site does. Provision of incomplete information in the marketing plan should be illegal, and actual data should be provided for all who want to purchase the vehicles. 

  1. Conclusions and Recommendations 
  2. Conclusions

Conclusively, it is evident that self-driving cars have since been recognized by different stakeholders as the major element of future transportation systems worldwide. Engineers in collaboration with other players have proposed that the AV technology will go a long way in ensuring a significant reduction in pollution, crashes, congestion, energy consumption, and increasing transport accessibility. Despite the promising future presented by autonomous cars, the lack of industry-specific laws has and continue to serve as a barrier to successful development, as well as the introduction of safe AVs on the roads. In particular, engineers, automakers, and other AV developers do not have comprehensive rules and regulations to refer to when designing new cars and choosing and installing security devices. At the same time, the lack of relevant regulations has failed to address transparency, privacy, and safety issues and associated concerns. Sensibly, the absence of laws regarding self-driving cars undermines not only the engineers’ ability to deliver but also users’ safety.

  1. Recommendations 

In response to the laxity witnessed in the industry, which has led to the lack effective and industry-specific laws to guide engineers, all the responsible stakeholders, including governments, automakers, policymakers, and the public should place great emphasis on implementing the following recommendations. 

  1. Existing and potential players, including Uber, Google, Tesla, and other major automakers should collaborate with the sole purpose of creating an elaborate and realistic roadmap that will not only educate on the whole process of developing self-driving cars but also identify and define policies that govern what these vehicles can or cannot do.  
  2. Given autonomous cars come in different levels, stakeholders should lay out result-oriented road rules, which will govern the first generation or fleet of AVs.
  3. Automakers should engage users in defining guidelines and associated laws that will govern the sale of self-driving vehicles to individual private citizens. Undoubtedly, this will help address the users’ security concerns. 
  4. The government through responsible regulation agencies should establish laws that define minimum security thresholds for a self-driving car. In this way, engineers will know what to include during the manufacturing process. 
  5. All levels of governments should collaborate with other stakeholders in creating fair and effective legal frameworks to promote the protection of personal data. As a result, engineers will understand the scope of the self-driving car’s security features. 



  1. References

Bagloee, S., et al. (2016). Autonomous vehicles: Challenges, opportunities, and future implications for transportation policies. Journal of Modern Transportation, 24(4), 284-303. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from

Boeglin, J. (2015). The costs of self-driving cars: reconciling freedom and privacy with tort liability in autonomous vehicle regulation. Yale JL & Tech.17, 171.

Danks, D. & London, A. (2017). Regulating autonomous systems: Beyond standardsIEEE Intelligent Systems, 32, (1), 88-91. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from

Dixit, V., Chand, S., & Nair, D. (2016). Autonomous vehicles: Disengagements, accidents and reaction times. PLoS ONE, 11(12), 1-12. 

Holstein, T., Dodig-Crnkovic, G., & Pelliccione, P. (2018). Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars. ARXIV, 18. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from

Lohmann, M. F. (2016). Liability issues concerning self-driving vehicles. European Journal of Risk Regulation7(2), 335-340.

Luetge, C. (2017). The German ethics code for automated and connected drivingPhilosophy & Technology, 30(4), 547-558. DOI 10.1007/s13347-017-0284-0 

Stilgoe, J. (2017).  Machine learning, social learning and the governance of self-driving carsSocial Studies of Science, 48(1), 25-56. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from\

Stilgoe, J. (2018). We need new rules for self-driving cars. Issues in Science and Technology, XXXIV (3). Retrieved May 2, 2019, from

Yang, C., Ozbay, K., & Ban, X. (2017). Developments in connected and automated vehicles. Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems, 21(4), 251-254. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from

Zohn, J. R. (2015). When robots attack: How should the law handle self-driving cars that cause damages. U. Ill. JL Tech. & Pol’y, 461.



[1] Bagloee, Saeed, Madjid Tavana, MohsenAsadiand Tracey Oliver, Autonomous vehicles: Challenges, opportunities, and future implications for transportation policies. Journal of Modern Transportation, 2016, vol. 24, no. 4, 284-303.

[2] Ibn, 286. 

[3] Ibn, 288. 

[4] Ibn, 285-300.

[5] Luetge, Christoph, The German ethics code for automated and connected driving. Philosophy & Technology, 2017, vol. 30, no. 4, 547-558.

[6] Stilgoe, Jack, Machine learning, social learning and the governance of self-driving cars. Social Studies of Science, 2017, vol. 48, no. 1, 25-56.

[7] Holstein, Tobias, Gordana  Dodig-Crnkovic, & Patrizio Pelliccione, Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars, 2018, ARXIV, 18. Retrieved, from


[8] Danks, David. & Alex London, Regulating autonomous systems: Beyond standards. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 2017, vol. 32, no.1, 88-91.

[9] Holstein et al., Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars.

[10] Stilgoe, Jack, We need new rules for self-driving cars. Issues in Science and Technology, 2018, XXXIV, no. 3. Retrieved from


[11] Holstein et al., Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars.

[12] Dixit, Vinayak,Sai Chand & Divya Nair,  Autonomous vehicles: Disengagements, accidents and reaction times. PLoS ONE, 2016, vol. 11, no. 12, 1-12. 


[13] Holstein et al., Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars.

[14] Yang, CY, Kaan Ozbay, & Xuegang Ban, Developments in connected and automated vehicles. Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems, 2017, vol. 21, no.  4, 251-254.

[15] Holstein et al., Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars.

[16] Yang, Ozbay, & Ban, Developments in connected and automated vehicles, 252-252.

[17] Holstein et al., Ethical and social aspects of self-driving cars.

[18] Lohmann, Melinda, Liability issues concerning self-driving vehicles. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 2016, vol. 7, no. 2, 335-340.


[19] Zohn, Jeffrey, When robots attack: How should the law handle self-driving cars that cause damages? U. Ill. JL Tech. & Pol’y, 2015, 461.


[20] Boeglin, Jack, The costs of self-driving cars: reconciling freedom and privacy with tort liability in autonomous vehicle regulation. Yale JL & Tech., 2015, vol. 17, 171.


[21] Boeglin, The costs of self-driving cars: reconciling, 171.

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