By Keith Crain, Crain News Service
DETROIT (May 11, 2015) — Determining who owns data generated by motor vehicles keeps getting more complicated.
Things used to be simple, but not anymore.
And it's going to get worse. As more companies develop and test autonomous vehicles, we'll have to sort out how to handle the inevitable malfunctions and crashes that come with adopting any new technology.
Regardless of how well-planned and thought-out, new technology is bound to create challenges.
The courts may believe they have decided who owns the information that today's automobiles generate, but I doubt that it's a closed book.
Every new car has a small but important black box on board. In the few seconds before a vehicle crash, the box will have recorded a lot of very important information. Were the brakes applied? What was the angle of the steering wheel? Did the airbags deploy?
Such information would be very valuable in any lawsuit that tries to determine responsibility. To me, it seems obvious that the vehicle owner should be the rightful owner of any and all information from the black box.
Yet the courts are full of lawyers fighting over that information.
So if a future collision involves a driverless vehicle, it's bound to become even harder to determine what went wrong and assign fault if no human was driving.
Will parts suppliers be held responsible? Or only vehicle manufacturers? Does an owner have a responsibility to stay in control even if he or she put the vehicle on autopilot?
The lawyers will have a heyday fighting over this one.
It may all seem far off, but Daimler A.G.'s Daimler Trucks division has begun testing autonomous heavy-duty trucks on public roads in Nevada.
Running big trucks on open highways is a logical start to testing driverless vehicles. Driving in relatively light traffic on a Nevada highway makes for safer testing than in heavier traffic in a major urban system.
As the automobile continues as a platform for more complicated vehicles, it will be fascinating to see how the legal system allocates ownership of the data generated.
And we haven't even scratched the surface of autonomous vehicles. Brace for more complexity.
This opinion column appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News and chairman of Crain Communications Inc., TB's parent company. He can be reached at [email protected]. Have an opinion on this column? Send your comments to at [email protected].