Susan Lent Interviewed in The Recorder on New Federal Guidelines for Autonomous Vehicles

In its article “Biggest Issue for Autonomous Car Lawyers? Managing Liability, Akin Partner Says,” The Recorder has featured Akin Gump litigation partner Susan Lent, head of the firm’s infrastructure and transportation practice, in a Q&A column discussing the federal government’s new guidance for driverless car manufacturers. As the article reports, the voluntary guidelines follow legislation passed by the House of Representatives that gives a more assertive role to the federal government in allowing up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles (AVs) to test-drive across the country.

Among the topics Lent covered:

  • Her biggest takeaway from the federal autonomous vehicles guidance: “The new guidance largely tracks the 2016 guidance but makes it clearer that the framework is voluntary and that [Department of Transportation] will rely on its defect, recall and enforcement authority as opposed to ex ante rules to promote safety.”
  • The biggest issue for her as a lawyer working in this space: “I would say the biggest issue is managing liability. That is why federal pre-emption is so important. Since this is a new industry we are thinking through where there could be potential liability and how to protect our clients through compliance program, insurance and indemnification provisions in contracts.”
  • The impact of federal developments on autonomous vehicle policy and legislation for a state like California that is developing its own rules: “States like California, Nevada, Florida, Texas, Michigan and others have all adopted AV regulations. The [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] Guidance and House bill would clarify where states should regulate and in particular focus states on licensing and road operations rather than vehicle standards.”
  • The legal issues raised by autonomous vehicle development and regulation that aren’t getting enough attention: “There are a series of questions regarding assignment of liability in a variety of contexts that are not receiving much attention yet but will be critical to promoting deployment and adoption of AVs on our roads.”