Car Hackers Could Face Life Imprisonment in Michigan

Michigan State Sens. Mike Kowall, R-Mich., and Ken Horn, R-Mich., sponsored a bill that will make it a felony to "intentionally access or cause access to be made to an electronic system of a motor vehicle to willfully destroy, damage, impair, alter or gain unauthorized control of the motor vehicle."

"I hope that we never have to use it," Kowall told Automotive News. "That's why the penalties are what they are.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 established five tiers to define various levels of automation, all the way to "full self-driving automation," or a vehicle in which the driver "is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip." Levels of automation include function-specific automation, such as electronic stability control, or two or more functions interacting while driving, like cruise control and lane centering.

Attorneys and others who specialize in the industry define connected vehicles as those with the ability to communicate with one another or with specialized infrastructure systems, such as signs to send warnings and avoid collisions. In-vehicle systems equipped with sensors can send and receive wireless messages with other vehicles about possible hazards.

Attorneys who specialize in connected car technology and autonomous vehicles say the industry is creating new and unique legal issues around everything from cybersecurity and data protection to product liability, said Automotive News.

Driverless cars aren't available to buy yet, though the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of 12 automakers, including the Detroit 3, said its members intend to bring them to market "as soon as possible."

Some estimates suggest it could be a matter of years before they're on the road, reported The Drive. The number of states introducing bills has grown steadily in recent years, from six in 2012 to 16 last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Nevada was first in 2011; since then, California, Florida, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington, D.C., also have followed Nevada's lead. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey last year signed an executive order directing state agencies to support testing of autonomous vehicles and setting up pilot programs at universities.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed two bills in 2013 that allowed autonomous vehicles on streets and highways only for testing purposes and exempted auto manufacturers from liability for damages that result if someone modifies a vehicle to make it autonomous.

"When would we consider vulnerability to a cyberattack to be a defect?" said Paul Laurenza, an attorney for law firm Dykema Gossett who works on auto regulatory issues in Washington. "That is an area that certainly we wouldn't have been talking about as a potential recall three or four years ago."

Laurenza also is chairman of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association, which represents companies, governments and other entities working on connected vehicle technology. Historically, he said, states' vehicle regulations typically focus on driver licensing and vehicle use, because federal safety standards would preempt any set at the state level.

States that regulate beyond how vehicles are used risk contributing to a patchwork of rules, Laurenza said. That could impede federal regulators' ability to ensure safety, he said, as well as manufacturers' development of autonomous vehicle technology.

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