As we move into relatively unchartered territory with autonomous vehicles and new privacy and data protection laws, companies have to look to new ways of keeping technology relevant, up to date and secure. Here is a roundup of the latest legal and technology considerations in the automotive industry:

The emergence of mobile operating system (OS) providers in automotive

Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay are making inroads into the market for OS infotainment systems. The advantages of working with Android and Apple are clear (depending on the source, Android and Apple phones amount to approximately 92% of the mobile OS market share) meaning that almost all drivers who want to use their phone in conjunction with their car will be able to do so if a vehicle supports Auto or CarPlay.

So what does this mean for car manufacturers? Well, the benefits of being compatible with popular third party software is a given for many tech-savvy car buyers. However, if the manufacturer does not work to embrace and integrate such third party software into their own infotainment systems, manufacturers may be missing out on capturing important data regarding both the users of the car, and the types of journey the car makes. 

However, the push towards more integrated systems and items we use on a day to day basis being connected to the internet and “talking to each other” (the Internet of Things), means that, as a consequence, data protection becomes an increasingly important issue to consider. Our recent article on autonomous vehicles and data protection discusses this issue further. 

Collaborating to save re-inventing the wheel

Toyota is spearheading a new collaborative initiative to develop an open-source infotainment system which can be rolled out across multiple brand and models with a view to keeping pace with the main software developers in the industry. Toyota is one of 10 global vehicle OEMs (along with other companies in the UK market such as Ford, Mazda and Suzuki).

The aim is to have software which has the flexibility to be adapted without great cost, whilst still being fully compatible with Android Auto and CarPlay.

The reduction in timescales for development (and the cost savings) are obvious and the aim is to ensure that such software could then be used to support future advanced technologies, including self-driving functions and connected car services, with Kenichi Murata, group manager of Connected Strategy and Planning at Toyota being quoted as stating that "It's very necessary to reduce the overhead of duplication work among our suppliers so they can spend more time to create new things rather than maintaining fragmentary codes".

One of the issues encountered with an open-source solution is that it is difficult to create value in a brand or a recognisable selling point of the user interface, particularly as IP ownership is often difficult to determine (and to be credited for), although the software will be more flexible and capable of being customised than solutions already presented by either Apple or Android (for example). In addition, open source software typically does not come with any warranties and therefore if there are bugs that are developed, there may not be the drive and desire from the vehicle OEMs for these to be fixed within a short period of time, which may put users off.

For Toyota and the other OEMs, this may not be an issue - having a part-ready piece of software for vehicles at each turn may mean that R&D time and budget can be devoted to more valuable aspects of the vehicle which have greater selling power.

Legislation to keep pace with new liabilities

Consider an autonomous vehicle. Who is at fault when there is an accident on the road – the driver or the manufacturer? The Automated and Electronic Vehicles Bill (the “Bill”) was announced during the Queen's Speech earlier this year, in part, addresses this very question.

The Government is proposing to extend compulsory motor insurance (currently required under the Road Traffic Act 1988) to include the use of autonomous vehicles, where an insurer covers both the driver's use of the vehicle and the autonomous vehicle technology.

This issue at the moment is that in the UK, insurance is (generally speaking) centred on the driver rather than the vehicle itself — drivers are required to carry insurance to cover themselves in the event of injury or damage to third-parties arising out of the driver’s act or omission. This will obviously need to be updated to ensure that in circumstances where there is no "driver” because the autonomous features of the vehicle are being used, coverage to third-parties will remain available.

The effect of this will be that where an insured autonomous vehicle has caused an accident, the insurer will be liable for the loss caused by that accident. Insurers would be able to limit coverage to circumstances similar to those for cyber security policies – such as instances where the system/software hasn’t been kept up to date or if unauthorised changes to the car’s software had been made.

Whilst the Bill is still very much in its infancy, the proposed single insurance policy is widely considered to be the most practical way to support the continued development and gradual introduction of autonomous vehicles to our roads.

About the author

Pete Maguire Partner

Pete is a commercial lawyer specialising in the drafting and negotiation of outsourcing and commercial contracts.