News and commentary about automated vehicles (AVs) focus on how they look and appear to operate, along with the companies developing and testing them. Behind the scenes are legal regimes—laws, regulations, and implementing bodies of different kinds—that literally and figuratively provide the rules of the road for AVs. Legal regimes matter because public welfare hinges on aspects of AV design and operation. Legal regimes can provide gatekeeping for AV developers and operators seeking to use public roads, and they can allocate liability when something goes wrong. Guiding and complementing legal regimes is public policy. Policy documents such as articulations of national strategies are sometimes used to address issues related to legal regimes and to demonstrate a jurisdiction’s support for AV development.

Building on its long history analyzing AV policy issues, RAND (with support of its Institute for Civil Justice) collaborated with the University of Michigan Law School’s Law and Mobility Program to study the nature of different AV legal regimes around the world. It selected countries known to be active in this domain. The research team reviewed and shared scholarly and gray literature (which is a type of scholarship produced by an entity in which commercial publications are not the primary focus, such as white papers from a government agency), and it also consulted experts in these regimes from the public and private sectors. Under the supervision of the Law and Mobility Fellow (a lawyer), law students collected and studied materials associated with country-specific legal regimes and drafted summaries guided by RAND’s enumeration of key factors. Availability of information about legal regimes varies—access to documentation, especially in English, is uneven, even for officials in different countries working collaboratively on these issues. That constrained availability is reflected in published legal comparisons, and it motivated the research team’s systematic research, which drew from materials in English and other languages. This article summarizes the makeup of AV legal regimes of Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. It highlights some key contrasts, which will be developed further as the project continues. It focuses on law and policy relating to highly to fully automated vehicles (SAE Levels 4 and 5). Although guided by a common set of topics for each country, each profile reflects the material available and the factors that differentiate national approaches.

The remainder of this article introduces the legal regimes of the covered countries in turn. It then provides an overview of key points of comparison and outlines future work.