By Park Ju-hong
There is an article in the “Vienna Convention on Road Traffic,” signed and ratified by many nations, that stipulates: “Every driver of a vehicle shall in all circumstances have his vehicle under control so as to be able to exercise due and proper care and to be at all times in a position to perform all maneuvers required of him.”
This was an obstacle in the way of institutionalization of autonomous vehicles, but as it was agreed in February 2016 to revise the text to allow for self-driving cars, no further institutional obstacles exist.
The Korean government systematically supports the commercialization of autonomous vehicles. It announced a plan in May 2015, and from February 2016 authorized autonomous vehicles have been tested. Discussions on legislation for autonomous vehicles also are under way.
Article 2 of the present Motor Vehicle Management Act has a legal definition of autonomous vehicles: “The term ‘autonomous driving motor vehicle’ means a motor vehicle which can self-operate without any operation by its driver or passengers.” And Article 27 has provisions for temporarily allowing self-driving cars to be operated for testing purposes. To receive such a permit, the autonomous vehicle must comply with standards specified in the same act. In addition, compulsory insurance is required to comply with the Guarantee of Automobile Accident Compensation Act, in case of an accident caused by the operation of an autonomous vehicle. Just like ordinary automobiles, self-driving cars also must comply with the provisions of the Road Traffic Act and related laws and regulations.
To operate an autonomous vehicle smoothly, various technologies are applied, such as gathering road information and exchanging information on a vehicle’s location. So it is necessary to observe the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, etc. and the Act on the Protection, Use, etc. of Location Information.
At this point, it is necessary to make a policy decision on whether to introduce new legislation on autonomous vehicles or simply revise the existing legal system to include autonomous vehicles in the concept of existing automobiles.
Since autonomous vehicles are different from regular ones, existing laws and regulations may actually hinder the development of technology due to their inapplicability to new technology. This should be taken into account when choosing a method of revising and amending existing laws.
The Korean government has declared that it will take an active role in the development of this new technology, but the updating of the law is proceeding at a slower pace than the development of the technology itself.
To maintain Korea’s position as a major automobile-producing country and not lag behind in the flow of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is necessary to draft legislation on the commercialization and legalization of autonomous vehicles, and to ensure that it is smoothly carried out.
Park Ju-hong works for HMP Law as a lawyer. His major field is finance and Fourth Industrial Revolution technology. The thoughts expressed in this column do not necessary reflect those of HMP Law.