Legal Experts: Liability, Privacy and Cybersecurity Challenges Ahead for Autonomous Technology Adoption

As more automated and driverless technologies are brought to market, questions regarding liability, privacy, data management and cybersecurity could present myriad legal challenges for automakers and suppliers in the not-so-distant future. That was a key message legal experts stressed in a candid conversation on “rights and regulations” on the Automobili-D stage at the North American International Auto Show on Thursday.

Kicking off the discussion, Patrick Seyferth, partner at Bush Seyferth & Paige PLLC, cautioned that the use of loaded language, specifically promoting autonomous vehicles as “saving lives,” should be used sparingly. Citing examples like the death of a Tesla autopilot driver, Seyferth said there is a common misperception that autonomous vehicles will totally eliminate human error and reduce accidents from texting, drunkenness, and other forms of distracted driving. In reality, according to Seyferth, automated vehicles shift human error from the driving to the programming and design.

“I’m not suggesting that autonomous technology is bad, I just think we need to pay a little more attention to what safety advocates are saying,” he said.

Tom Manganello, partner at Warner Norcross & Judd, disagreed with Seyferth’s analysis of safety, stating autonomous tech will be a key catalyst to improving safety on roadways across the world.

“Fatalities have gone up 6,000 per year at a time when cars are the safest they’ve ever been from a passive protection standpoint. So what’s the problem? The problem is people. Will automated vehicle technology prevent all deaths? No. What we will see is a rapid reduction in serious injuries and deaths the more the driver can be taken out of the system,” he said.

Discussion also focused on cybersecurity risk and data protection.

“When you think connectivity, you have to look at your vulnerabilities,” said Jennifer Dukarski, attorney with Butzel Long. “Imagine a nefarious person being able to hack a fleet of police vehicles to learn their exact location.”

Despite the challenges, Dukarski said Michigan is well-positioned to lead in the testing and development of connected and autonomous vehicles with the passage of the Safe Autonomous Vehicles (SAVE) Act.

The panel was moderated by Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto.