Stanford Students: Fall 2012 Course on the Law of Autonomous Driving

Nantucket responded to the introduction of motor vehicles by banning them. And this is how the town's mail carrier responded to that ban:

A century later, driverless cars and trucks have the potential to revolutionize society as much as the horseless carriages that preceded them. This emerging technology raises important questions -- about legality and liability, privacy and security, even intellectual property and land use -- that demand thoughtful analysis from a variety of perspectives. For these reasons, I am excited to be teaching an inaugural seminar on the legal aspects of autonomous driving. This Fall 2012 course is open to Stanford University students who want to meaningfully advance that analysis. Law students should preregister by this Friday, July 13th, 2012; others should follow these steps.

Key topics will include:

Innovation. We will ask what qualifies as a self-driving vehicle and how close we are to actually seeing one in a dealer's lot. We will also consider particular deployment scenarios such as advanced driver assistance, freeway driving, valet parking, military bases, and platooning.

Regulation. We will examine relevant portions of the Conventions on Road Traffic, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and the vehicle codes of key states. We will also evaluate recent autonomous driving laws, bills, and standards and develop additional language for lawmakers to consider. 

Compensation. We will review automotive insurance and litigation (including the Ford Pinto cases and three decades of unintended acceleration claims), explore alternatives to and limits on traditional tort liability, and discuss strategies to increase legal certainty for developers of self-driving vehicles.

Information. We will explore rules and practices regarding vehicle data recording, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and aerial drones. We will then ask how to govern an emerging Internet of Cars filled with revealing data from millions of sensors.

Preparation. We will consider potential socioeconomic changes related to increased vehicle automation and try to uncover new "unknown unknowns." 

Coursewide themes will include uncertainty, responsibility, and authority. 

Guests from industry, government, and academia will be invited to present and, more frequently, to simply participate in the discussions. Readings will be excerpted from academic and technical literature, source documents (from treaties to case law), and current drafts of bills and standards; supplementary materials or lectures will be available to participants without a legal background. All students will be expected to actively contribute during class and to critically reflect through either regular essays or a final research paper. The course is two credits with an option for a third credit.

I look forward to some great discussions and some meaningful results.

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