Driverless Cars: The Legal Landscape

Driverless Car

The world of driverless cars – also known as autonomous vehicles – is coming, but is our country ready for it? Our innovative program will focus on important questions about regulations, standards, and rules of liability for these vehicles of the future. 

On June 14, 2017, the George Washington University Law School, through its Innovation and Internet Initiative Program, will host a full day discussion bringing together industry representatives; officials with experience in regulation of motor vehicles from the federal and state perspectives, including two former leaders of the National Highway Traffic Administration – Joan Claybrook and David Strickland. Confirmed participants include auto safety advocates; workers whose jobs may be displaced by these vehicles; experts on legal liability, cyber-security, data privacy protection, and antitrust law.

The big question for our policy makers and for this conference is, can we strike a proper balance between protecting the public and not unduly stifling innovation? And as part of an effort to answer that question, the conference will explore the proper roles of the federal and state (and perhaps local) governments.  

The program will cover the following: 

  • What is meant by the different features that make cars and trucks “driverless” and a presentation of their anticipated benefits. 
  • Regulation of vehicle testing, major driverless features in vehicles sold to the public, and who is or should be held liable if there is a crash of a driverless vehicle.
  • Cyber hacking, data privacy and uses, and possible antitrust concerns. 

This event will be moderated by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service Law.

*Agenda topics, times, and speakers are subject to modification.

8:30 am: Registration and Continental Breakfast

9 - 9:45 am: Opening Discussion and Overview


  • Mitch Bainwol, Auto Alliance


  • What is a driverless car, now and in the short and long term futures?
  • How will they be used by individuals, businesses, governments, and transportation services?
  • What are the specific public and private benefits that are anticipated from HAVs?

9:45 - 10:45 am: Panel 1 – The Testing Phase


  • David Glasser, District of Columbia DMV
  • Michael Brooks, Center for Auto Safety
  • Paul Brubaker, ATI21
  • Will Wallace, Consumers Union


  • What additional rules, if any, are needed during the testing phase & if so, should they be issued by a federal, state, or local agency?
  • Should manufacturers be required to gather certain data and submit it to safety agencies and make it available to the public?
  • Are there legitimate concerns about potentially collusive behavior by the industry in the development of HAVs?

11 am - 12:30 pm: Panel 2 – The Deployment Phase


  • Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen
  • David Strickland, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets
  • Bernard Soriano, California DMV
  • Enjoli DeGrasse, International Brotherhood of Teamsters


  • What kind of regulatory system (premarket approval, compliance with specific standards, enhanced recall authority, or other) would be desirable? 
  • Would the necessity of issuing rules specific for driverless cars cause undue delay in bringing some or all of their features to market, or are there legitimate safety concerns that justify those delays?
  • What impact will a significant deployment of HAVs have on workers in a variety of fields, and what, if anything, should be done about it?
  • What data, crash-related and other, should be collected for deployed vehicles?

12:30 -1:15 pm: Lunch

1:15 - 1:30 pm: Special Remarks by Ralph Nader

1:30 - 3 pm: Panel 3 – Liability & Insurance


  • Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog
  • Victor Schwartz, Shook, Hardy & Bacon
  • Robert Rabin, Stanford Law School
  • Tom Karol, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies   


  • “Rules and laws allocating tort liability could have a significant effect on both consumer acceptance of HAVs and their rate of deployment. Such rules also could have a substantial effect on the level and incidence of automobile liability insurance costs in jurisdictions in which HAVs operate.”  NHTSA Policy Statement, p. 46.
  • Regardless of who decides the liability question, what is the best (right) answer as to who should be liable: the manufacturer; the vehicle owner; the component part or software maker; or some combination of them?
  • If there is uncertainty on the liability issues, how will that affect the willingness of HAV manufacturers to proceed and insurance companies to provide coverage?

3 - 4:15 pm: Panel 4 – Other Issues: Cyber-Security; Uses & Abuses of HAV Data; and Antitrust Concerns 


  • Joshua Corman, The Atlantic Council
  • David Vladeck, Georgetown Law Center
  • John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog
  • Albert Foer, American Antitrust Institute


  • Are there real dangers of hackers taking control of an HAV and causing it to malfunction?
  • Are the privacy principles that NHTSA has set forth in its September 2016 Policy Statement (pp 19-20) adequate?
  • Should the public have access to safety data generated by HAV accidents and near misses
  • Are there dangers of antitrust violations from industry collaboration outside the rulemaking context?