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Blurry legalities for autonomous vehicles in Canada

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver




As TransLink waits for new autonomous vehicle regulations in Canada, a Vancouver lawyer says the legality of self-driving cars being tested by Google could be challenged.

TransLink is exploring opportunities to use autonomous vehicle technology —eliminating the need for drivers — in transit, calling the idea a potential “game changer” for the industry.

But since there’s no specific law in B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act against autonomous cars, said Nexus Law Group partner Clint Lee, what prevents the use of driverless technology now is the interpretation of existing legislation.

“Our Motor Vehicle Act states someone could be held liable for driving with undue care and attention. That, I would think, could potentially cover the situation,” Lee said Monday.

“That law obviously hasn’t been tested because there aren’t autonomous vehicles on the road … It could be subject to challenge.”

Transport Canada, which enforces the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, said on Tuesday many vehicles are already equipped with “radar and camera systems” to help drivers avoid or lessen the impact of a crash.

All vehicles manufactured in, or imported to, Canada must meet those standards, which currently allow self-brake systems and other technologies such as lane-keeping assistance and blind-spot detection.

“Officials continue to review and work together … to set vehicle standards and regulations and to develop other types of in-vehicle and roadway intelligent transportation systems that relieve and/or assist the driver in operating the vehicle,” said TC spokeswoman Kelly James.

“These systems will continue to evolve with improvements in technology and they may in time allow for highly assisted or full-assistance (driverless) technology.”

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation said on Tuesday its jurisdiction only applies if the federal government allows the cars into Canada.

In California, however, regulations are now just being drafted — even as testers are using Google’s self-driving technology in the state — since the testers are in compliance with existing standards that don’t cover autonomous cars.

State Department of Motor Vehicles deputy director Bernard Soriano said California doesn't currently have regulations governing testing of manufacturer cars. It offers manufacturers' plates, but those only cover instances when manufacturers are driving their own production cars, or when offering the car's use for promotional or marketing reasons.

“There’s nothing in place right now to prevent them from testing,” he said.

In B.C., according to ICBC, manufacturers’ licences and insurance are also offered as long as the vehicle is made locally and a Transport Canada “safety mark” is issued.



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