Hands on the Wheel: A Call for Greater Regulation of Semi-Autonomous Cars

47 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2017 Last revised: 6 Apr 2017

See all articles by Tracy Hresko Pearl

Tracy Hresko Pearl

University of Oklahoma College of Law

Date Written: March 8, 2017


The United States is in the midst of a driverless car revolution. Semi-autonomous cars — those that can steer, accelerate, and brake on their own under certain circumstances — are already available to consumers. Fully autonomous cars will be available within the decade. The federal government and states throughout the nation have responded to these developments by rushing to pass laws designed to regulate the fully autonomous cars that are coming while largely ignoring the semi-autonomous cars that are already on U.S. roads. This is an extremely troubling oversight. New studies suggest that semi-autonomous vehicles are likely far more dangerous than the fully autonomous vehicles being developed. Indeed, despite the fact that semi-autonomous vehicles rely on continuous human supervision to operate safely, a growing body of research demonstrates that drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles are highly prone to distraction and may have significant misunderstandings of the capabilities and limitations of these vehicles. Both the federal government and states should pass laws and regulations designed to address these safety issues. Namely, the federal government should: (1) grant the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration the ability to create and administer a pre-market approval system for autonomous vehicles, (2) require car manufacturers to install attention warning systems on semi-autonomous cars in order to minimize the risk of driver distraction, and (3) place restrictions on the ability of manufacturers to give the semi-autonomous features on their cars names like “Autopilot” that might mislead consumers as to their capabilities. States, in turn, should (1) forbid drivers from tampering with or disabling driver monitoring systems, (2) require owners of semi-autonomous cars to install routine over-the-air software updates that make these vehicles safer, and (3) mandate that drivers of these vehicles complete proper driver training.

Keywords: driverless cars, autonomous cars, autonomous vehicles, semi-autonomous, tesla, NHTSA, federal automated vehicles policy, law and science, law and technology, transportation law, law and society

Suggested Citation

Hresko Pearl, Tracy, Hands on the Wheel: A Call for Greater Regulation of Semi-Autonomous Cars (March 8, 2017). Indiana Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2930125 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2930125

Tracy Hresko Pearl (Contact Author)

University of Oklahoma College of Law ( email )

307 W Brooks
Norman, OK 73019
United States

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