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New laws emerge as technology impacts cars and driving

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Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:37 am, Sat Jun 21, 2014.

(BPT) - Have you ever felt that new technologies, from smartphones to Internet apps, are moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up?

You’re not alone. Many Americans feel overwhelmed by new technology. One-third of adults in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and China said they felt overwhelmed by technology in a 2011 study conducted by the University of Cambridge.

As it relates to public policy, lawmakers may also be feeling overwhelmed as they try to keep up with researching, writing and passing legislation to regulate new technologies to maintain public safety or prevent the invasion of privacy. According to the WestlawNext, the leading online legal research service, more than 100,000 new or changed statutes, 160,000 new or modified regulations and 285,000 new judicial opinions were incorporated into the U.S. legal system in 2013.

“New technology can create a debate,” says Rachel Utter, manager of Legal Editorial Operations at Thomson Reuters. “As regulators come to understand the impact of a new technology on our day-to-day lives, they may be challenged with balancing the benefits of a new technology with public safety concerns. In some cases, such as fuel mileage mandates, government regulation can force the development of new technology, such as hybrid engines and electric cars.”

Among the new wave of enacted or proposed legislation involving technology and cars conducted via WestlawNext through Jan. 30, some of the most prominent include:

* Texting and driving – Forty-one states and the District of Columbia ban texting with smartphones and cellphones for all drivers – and all but four have primary enforcement, allowing law enforcement in those four states to only ticket someone for texting while driving if they were stopped for another reason such as speeding.

* Wearable technology – With the recent introduction of Google Glass and other evolving wearable technology such as the smart watches and smart contact lenses, lawmakers may need to develop new laws about the use of these technologies while a person operates a motor vehicle. Ten states – Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming – have enacted or have proposed legislation prohibiting the use of wearable computers with a head-mounted display while driving. In October 2013, a California woman may have been the first person in the United States to receive a citation for operating a motor vehicle while wearing Google Glass. The citation was later thrown out of court.

* Black boxes – Nearly all recently manufactured U.S. cars and trucks are equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR), also known as a black box. In September 2014, this piece of computing technology will become mandatory in all new U.S. vehicles. The EDR monitors a vehicle’s electrical systems, which includes speed, braking, driving patterns and even location at any given time. A number of legal questions have emerged about black boxes, such as: “Who owns the data that a vehicle’s black box is gathering? If a car owner is involved in a crash, do police and insurance companies have the right to review the data in the vehicle’s EDR? Can marketers buy the data to deliver ads through the vehicle’s entertainment system?” These questions are at the heart of a recent bill introduced by senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

* Driverless cars – Imagine a day when people travel by car, but don’t actually drive the car. They simply type in their destination and go. Several states have passed laws allowing automated cars. California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads. Washington D.C. may have the least restrictive provisions: the vehicle must have a manual override feature, a driver must be in the control seat with the ability to take over operation of the vehicle, and the vehicle must be capable of operating in compliance with the District’s traffic and motor vehicle laws.

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

To learn more about WestlawNext, visit www.thomsonreuters.com.

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