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From ride-sharing services, to self-driving cars, and even robotic delivery drivers, new modes of transport for people and goods are being introduced at a rapid pace and they’re touching many aspects of daily life. As existing modes of travel evolve and new transportation options are created, legal questions and challenges are being raised along with them in the realms of insurance, data privacy, accessibility, and much more.

The University of Michigan has been at the forefront of transportation opportunities and challenges. In 2015, the university launched its Mcity program, one of the first testing centers for connected and autonomous vehicles. With the backing of multiple industry partners including, General Motors, Toyota, and Ford Motor company, MCity is being developed into a state-of-the-art testing facility.

Now, the University of Michigan Law School and Mcity have come together to create The Law and Mobility Project, an initiative to further research and education on topics at the intersection of mobility and the law. As part of the Project, the Law School and Mcity have announced the launch of The Michigan Journal of Law and Mobility, a new outlet for communicating the latest findings in transportation law research. The Journal, which debuted in June of 2018, is a faculty-run, peer-reviewed publication that will publish short essays on a rolling basis, in addition to formal academic pieces, to keep up with fast-moving developments in transportation industries and the law.

In the interview below, Ian Williams, the inaugural Fellow for the Law & Mobility Program and the managing editor of The Journal of Law and Mobility, discusses the Journal’s launch and how The Law and Mobility Project plans to develop this publication and its other scholarly communication efforts.

Q&A with Ian Williams

Can you share a brief overview of the Journal of Law and Mobility? What sets it apart from other similar publications?

IW: The Michigan Journal of Law and Mobility is a new digital platform tracking research, scholarship, and leading developments at the intersection of mobility transformation and law, including short essays and academic pieces, as well as analysis of legislative, regulatory, and technological developments.

What further sets the Journal apart from existing publications is our peer review system. All articles accepted for publication shall undergo peer review by at least two journal editors or other qualified experts in the relevant field. Rather than being run by students, the journal is run by a team of legal and technical experts, including one full-time staff member.

The Journal accepts submissions of short scholarly works which will typically fall in the range of 2,000-6,000 words (footnotes inclusive) and adopts the emerging conventions of online law reviews: light annotation and relatively informal style, a focus on current events or fast-moving topics, and quick turn-around (typically in a few weeks) from acceptance to publication.

The Journal is part of the University of Michigan Law School’s new Project in Law and Mobility. Can you share some more details about that project?

IW: The Law and Mobility Project promotes research, education, and scholarship focused on the intersection of law and mobility transformation. Launched by Michigan Law and U of M’s Mcity, in close collaboration with the Michigan state government, and the Michigan Council on Future Mobility, the Project serves as a collaborative legal solutions incubator, engaging thought leaders from the state of Michigan and beyond, and focuses on activities relating to connected and automated vehicles and mobility transformation more generally.

In addition to the Journal, the Project will hold a yearly symposium in Ann Arbor, present papers and projects at major transportation and legal conferences, and host on-campus speaker events throughout the year.

How do you hope The Journal of Law and Mobility will become a top resource for scholarship and information concerning connected and automated vehicles?

IW: The University of Michigan, through projects like Mcity, is already at the forefront of this technology, and since we’re lucky enough to also have a top law school on campus, we are uniquely positioned to facilitate discussions of the legal issues surrounding the development and deployment of these vehicles. The University’s existing technical partnerships with a number of companies allow us to facilitate discussions with industry leaders, while the Law School’s wide-ranging connections to the worlds of private practice, government, and public interest law allow us to pull in a diverse set of legal experts. Being housed at a top public university allows us to further branch out our work and connect with academics, experts in public policy, business, social work, and medicine, among other disciplines.

How are mobility systems changing and how will the journal be highlighting these innovations?

IW: The biggest potential change is of course the deployment of “self-driving” vehicles, which are currently being tested across the country. While there is still a lot of work to be done on the technology, it offers an opportunity to change not only your daily commute, but the structure of our cities and towns. Depending on how the technology finally makes it to full commercial deployment, it has the
potential to push people to give up their individual cars in favor of on-demand rides in “self-driving” cars. Swarms of ride-share vehicles could flow into cities when needed, and retreat to remote lots, rather than downtown parking lots, when not in demand, freeing up a lot of real estate now devoted to parking. Self-driving vehicles could also facilitate better access to the world for the disabled and the elderly, allowing them greater levels of independence. Governments at every level are going to have to step in and regulate these technologies, which have the potential to trigger changes in employment, labor, and the movement of goods.

The Journal intends to highlight not only the challenges of regulating how these vehicles behave on the road, but to also talk about the changes they will cause within our society. How should we adapt existing laws covering issues like accessibility, liability, and privacy to cover these vehicles? How do we integrate them into our existing transportation infrastructure, and how do we mitigate potential negative impacts they may have on our society? Answering these questions requires the input of not just the engineers developing the technology, but lawyers, government officials, urban planners, and average community members, among others. Our goal is to facilitate discussions of all these issues through a legal lens, and provide policy makers, automakers, and the public at large a source of diverse scholarship to reference as we decide just how we will adapt this technology to our needs and in turn adapt society to the changes it will foster.