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How the Anti-Drunk Driving Technology Mandated by Recent Legislation May Impact the Liability of Automobile Manufacturers and the Future of Products Liability Law for Autonomous Vehicles | Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (the “Act”), which came into force on November 15, 2021, has been followed closely by the transport sector. One section of the law has the potential to affect the landscape of automotive product liability disputes.

Section 24220 requires automobile manufacturers to equip new passenger vehicles with advanced technology for the prevention of drunkenness and restricted driving. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pub. L. No. 117-58, § 24220, 135 Stat. 429, 831-833 (2021).

This provision raises crucial questions regarding the liability of manufacturers and drivers for semi-autonomous vehicles – an area of product liability law that has yet to be developed by the courts.

What does Section 24220 require?

Section 24220 (c) requires the Minister of Transport to be confirmed no later than March 15. . that requires passenger cars. . . be equipped with advanced technology for the prevention of drunkenness and impairment of driving. “

“Advanced Drunk and Disabled Driving Technology” is defined as a system that:

  • passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle in order to identify precisely whether that driver is possibly impaired and to prevent or limit the operation of the motor vehicle if an impairment is detected; or
  • Passively and accurately recognize whether the blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of a driver of a motor vehicle is equal to or greater than BAC 0.08 and prevent or restrict the operation of a motor vehicle if a BAC is determined above the legal limit; or
  • A combination of the systems described in (A) and (B).

Once the Minister of Transport has announced the safety standard under Section 24220, manufacturers have no more than three years to adhere to the standard.

How do autonomous vehicles fit in section 24220?

The definition of advanced drunk and impaired technology in Section 24220 requires “passive” surveillance or detection. Passive alcohol detection systems use sensors built into the car that can passively determine whether the person behind the wheel is under influence. Section 24220 regulates technologies that are similar to the driver sensors that are often used in connection with semi-autonomous driving.

These passive alcohol detection systems are not new. Indeed, in response to a request for information about impaired driving technologies, Mothers Against Trunk Driving (MADD) stated that there were at least 241 examples of such technologies. Hence the feasibility of the mandate is not really in question. Rather, the focus is on how Section 24220 affects an automobile manufacturer’s liability when the technology is equipped and an accident occurs.

What are the liability implications of Section 24220?

How product liability law deals with autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles has been a question that has been discussed for years but has not yet been thoroughly tested. The focus of the dispute was the distribution of liability between the automobile manufacturer, the manufacturer of the autonomous technology at issue and the driver / operator. Section 24220 of the law can point out how these issues might be determined in the future.

Suppose that a car equipped with the technology of Section 24220 malfunctions and fails to recognize that the driver is impaired, and the driver causes an accident. If a civil action is brought against the driver and the automaker, what is the ultimate liability? Without the section 24220 technology, the answer seems clear: the driver should be held civilly liable for driving under influence. However, when manufacturers are required to equip technology that detects impairments and prevents the vehicle from operating, the question becomes more complicated. If the manufacturer of the software differs from that of the automobile manufacturer, additional levels of liability are added.

Therefore, it is easy to see how Section 24220 has the potential to create potential risks in future legal proceedings involving partially or fully autonomous vehicles with human “drivers”. Such a basis can provide a framework for how the courts will ultimately deal with liability when dealing with a fully autonomous car that is involved in an accident.

What about the federal preemption?

Section 24220 also raises questions of federal preemption. Ultimately, once a safety standard under Section 24220 has been enacted, the provisions may contain explicit preventive language that prohibits certain product liability claims against automobile manufacturers. In the absence of such wording, the courts may need to interpret the ultimate standard of security for the tacit prevention of certain government illicit claims.

Whether the federal government decides to include an express pre-emptive clause in the final safety standard remains to be seen how the federal government will deal with the regulation of autonomous passenger cars. In addition, the final interpretations of the safety standard by the courts will also give manufacturers insights into how product liability claims can be handled with autonomous vehicles in the future.

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Section 24220 is worth seeing as it could have important implications for the potential liability and regulation of partially and fully autonomous vehicles in the future.