February 19, 2014

Technology Seen as a Major Driver of US Legislation, Regulations

U.S. legal system continues moving at significant pace

EAGAN, Minn. – Everything seems to be moving faster than ever. And the pace of change for public laws continues to increase as the government tries to keep up. According to WestlawNext, the leading online legal research service, more than 100,000 new or changed statutes, 160,000 new or modified regulations and over 285,000 new judicial opinions were incorporated into the body of United States law in 2013.

Let’s look at cars. Automotive technology implementation often precedes regulation, even as regulators evaluate how innovation impacts the industry, consumers and public safety.

“Technology often forces debate and the automotive industry continues to be a centerpiece in that discussion,” said Rachel Utter, manager, Legal Editorial Operations at Thomson Reuters. “Emerging technology from air bags and anti-lock brakes to GPS navigation and back-up cameras often is incorporated into new vehicles, and safety agencies and government officials must evaluate whether new regulations or legislation is needed. Regulation may also help the development of technology, since knowing which technologies will be permitted makes returns on investment safer, too.”

According to WestlawNext, 41 states and the District of Columbia ban texting for all drivers – and all but four have primary enforcement, meaning that law enforcement in those four states can only ticket someone for texting while driving if they are stopped for another reason, such as speeding. The technology behind texting may not be new, but regulations regarding how it is used in automobiles continue to evolve.

As we look ahead, lawmakers are faced with many challenges, such as understanding how the use of wearable technology, Google GlassTM for instance, may affect how people operate automobiles, or the impact on the law of self-driving cars. Ten states – Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming – currently have enacted or proposed legislation prohibiting the use of wearable computers with a head-mounted display while driving.

Additionally, California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads. The District of Columbia may have the least restrictive provisions, provided the vehicle has a manual override feature, a driver is in the control seat with the ability to take over operation of the vehicle, and the vehicle is capable of operating in compliance with the District’s traffic and motor vehicle laws. California and Florida allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads only for testing purposes.

“Technology, whether implemented into how automobiles are designed or operated, has made significant contributions in making vehicles safer,” added Utter. “And as new technology is integrated, there will be questions, concerns and debate driving new regulation and legislation.”

The data was researched and compiled through Jan. 30, 2014. All research was conducted via WestlawNext, the leading online legal research service from Thomson Reuters.

Editor’s Note: For a high-resolution infographic, please visit http://www.legalcurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/AutoGraphic_HiRes.jpg or email Jeff McCoy at jeffrey.mccoy@thomsonreuters.com.  

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