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The Rules of the Road, They Are a Changing

April 22, 2021 By Lauren N. Rutkowski

Gone are the days when a “driver” was a driver and a human was needed to operate a vehicle, or at least, that is what various state legislatures are currently considering when discussing autonomous vehicles. With more than 80 companies across the nation developing and refining driverless vehicle technology, law makers need to consider what this new technology means for the rules of the road. In preparation for the age of driverless vehicles, the Maryland Department of Transportation has partnered with the University of Baltimore School of Law to conduct an audit of all vehicle laws which will need to be updated to reflect the new technology.

The current laws, not only in Maryland, but throughout the country assume that a human will be “operating” or “driving” an automobile. The University of Baltimore School of Law research group has identified approximately 4,800 Maryland state laws which will likely need to be updated to accommodate the new technology. One early consideration of the research group is that common definitions of terms such as “driver,” “vehicle,” and “license” will need to be updated to adapt to driverless vehicle technology. Once all impacted Maryland state laws are identified, researchers will provide insight and guidance on how the identified laws will need to be updated. The Maryland audit is expected to conclude in February 2022.

This audit is likely to lead to substantial changes, not just in the Maryland traffic laws, but also to Maryland automobile insurance laws. Insurance carriers may also need to adapt their policy language, permissions and exclusions, to reflect the changes in Maryland traffic laws in order to accommodate the new technology. Further, these changed and updated laws may affect the availability of common defenses in Maryland such as last clear chance. It will be important for insurance defense litigators and insurance carriers to monitor what proposals are made as a result of the audit and how those proposals will impact the defense of auto tort cases and insurance writing in Maryland.