Autonomous vehicles will transform the way driving is regulated: Here's how

Whether you like it or not, driverless vehicles are going to become an increasingly important cog in 21st century living.

As technology moves at a rapid pace, the world's biggest companies are looking to develop and deploy increasingly sophisticated self-driving technology. To give one example, Vehicles at Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, have software and sensors designed to detect everything from pedestrians and cyclists to road works and other vehicles.

Ride-hailing powerhouse Uber is also looking to make a mark in the self-driving market. "In 2019, we've committed to buy 24,000 Volvo SUVs that we're going to equip with our autonomous driving technology and start to roll out on the Uber app," Fred Jones, the business' head of cities in the U.K. and Ireland, told CNBC.

Autonomous vehicles will not only change the way we get around our cities. Their economic impact will also be significant. The U.K. government, for instance, has said that the driverless technology market is set to be worth as much as £50 billion to the economy by 2035.

As the way we drive undergoes a transformation, regulations will have to be modified. Unsurprisingly, that is going to be a big, big job.

"There are no rules right now, international rules, on how to regulate automated vehicles," Philippe Crist, project manager for the International Transport Forum (ITF), told CNBC.

"The safety regulation of automated vehicles will have to be the same as for regular vehicles, using the same principles." The ITF is an intergovernmental organization at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The "object" of regulation, Crist explained, may change. Before, it was a driver and their vehicle. Now, it would need to include the algorithms and code that operate in an autonomous one.

He added that future regulation would also include, to a certain extent, "the fitness of the sensor systems that are providing input to the vehicle (and) replacing human eyes and human ears." This was a new space for regulation, he said.

And, as the way we drive morphs from using our hands to using smart, autonomous vehicles, Crist pointed to another striking development taking place.

"One of the things we've seen is the knowledge about what's taking place on the streets, on roads, has shifted from the public sector to the private sector," he said.

"Now, instantaneously, several companies know better what's happening on city streets, and public authorities who are mandated to manage those streets and manage transport infrastructure and investment don't have that insight."

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