Currently, few countries/states have specific legislation about when a child may be left alone either in the home or in a public transport vehicle. However, when it comes to AVs, it may be necessary to legislate for conditions under which being unsupervised is or isn’t allowed. It would be inappropriate to subject young children to several of the risks that are particular to this environment. For example, a vehicle breakdown or a collision may require a child to release themselves from their restraint system, leave the car safely, and await assistance. Similarly, a medical emergency would be very challenging for a younger child alone in an AV. Also, incidents of known risk to children in and around parked vehicles, such as hyperthermia, might increase if children are allowed to be unattended in AVs.
If policymakers in some jurisdictions determine that some children may travel alone, such laws should specify a minimum age at which this is allowed. Further, responsibility should be assigned for child safeguarding in the car and the nature that might take. Risks could be mitigated (up to a point) by mandating remote monitoring (the forecasted “teleoperations”) and communication systems that would enable children traveling alone to seek help if needed. These systems might raise new questions of cybersecurity and privacy but could be implemented in a secure way.
This issue is linked closely to that of responsibility for properly restraining a child in an AV. If the law assigns responsibility for properly restraining a child to a responsible adult within the car, children who ride in child safety restraints cannot travel alone under any circumstances. However, if policymakers determine that the responsible adult does not need to remain in the AV once the restraint is installed and the child is properly buckled up—or, if the law is not clear on this point—then additional legislation will be needed.
Example of Current Legislation that Addressed Unattended Children
In 2017, North Carolina enacted forward-thinking legislation to regulate AVs, including a provision addressing child passengers. Specifically, legislation makes it unlawful for any parent or guardian of a child under age 12 to knowingly permit that child to occupy a fully automated vehicle while it is in motion or which has the engine running unless the child is under the supervision of a person age 18 or older. See Model Legislation for Global Use.