The lights are on, but is anybody home? Canada’s Self-Driving Vehicle Legislation

Commentary, Gerard A. Lucyshyn, Transportation

Many of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers such as: Tesla, Uber, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Nissan, GM, and Ford along with some other less-common brands are working on and planning to release driverless cars or driverless systems in the near future. It is projected that the autonomous vehicle market in the US will be approximately $87 billion by 2030, now is certainly the time to be thinking about self-driving legislation.

Amongst the G7 countries United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States have already taken the lead with new autonomous vehicle legislation, while Canada is merely moseying along.

Beginning in 2015, the UK adopted a non-regulatory approach. This approach has no certifications, permits or bonding requirements. Rather, it identifies all regulations, within the existing motor vehicle regulations, incompatible with autonomous vehicles. This approach also incorporates guidelines which must be complied with.  Non-compliance with the guidelines constitutes negligence.

The New Zealand government has adopted a quasi-regulatory approach. This approach uses standardized government guidelines and permits. In February 2016, The New Zealand Ministry of Transportation issued their guidelines that set out the prerequisites which include liability and indemnity insurance requirements, safety management plans and incident logs.

The pioneers of driverless legislation, the United States in particular Nevada, have adopted regulatory approaches to driverless vehicles. Each state has instituted their own individual regulatory framework producing inconsistent and confusion across the country. Earlier this month the US House of Representatives passed the SELF-DRIVE Act.  Designed to harmonize individual state legislation, the SELF-DRIVE Act ensures the safe deployment of self-driving cars. The Act gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the ability to adapt federal safety standards and clarify federal and state roles regarding autonomous vehicles. In fact, loopholes in the new Act have already been identified with respect to privacy policy. For example, information from your vehicle, like your driving habits, could be used for marketing purposes or other purposes. In other words, there appears to be more complex issues standard safety issues that need consideration.

Last and least is Canada. Transportation in Canada falls under provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Passing national harmonious transportation regulations will be very challenging and time consuming. Yet, the federal and provincial governments have not even begun to seriously look at this issue. The federal government budgeted only $7.3M over 2016 and 2017 to improve motor vehicle safety. Of this, only a very minor amount is dedicated to autonomous vehicles. By contrast, the UK set aside $200M back in 2015 for research and development of driverless vehicle technology along with supporting infrastructure for autonomous vehicles.

Canadian politician’s need to realize that the reality of autonomous vehicles will be here soon. Canadians need to ask themselves and their governments what type approach to take: non-regulatory, quasi-regulatory, or regulatory? These decisions need to happen now, otherwise our provincial and federal governments may find themselves in the situation where “…the lights are on, but nobody’s home …” (to quote from the first autonomous car, K.I.T.T. from the 1984 Knight Rider TV series) as this evolutionary change in transportation occurs.