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Legal and ethical implications of applications based on agreement technologies: the case of auction-based road intersections


Agreement technologies refer to a novel paradigm for the construction of distributed intelligent systems, where autonomous software agents negotiate to reach agreements on behalf of their human users. Smart Cities are a key application domain for agreement technologies. While several proofs of concept and prototypes exist, such systems are still far from ready for being deployed in the real-world. In this paper we focus on a novel method for managing elements of smart road infrastructures of the future, namely the case of auction-based road intersections. We show that, even though the key technological elements for such methods are already available, there are multiple non-technical issues that need to be tackled before they can be applied in practice. For this purpose, we analyse legal and ethical implications of auction-based road intersections in the context of international regulations and from the standpoint of the Spanish legislation. From this exercise, we extract a set of required modifications, of both technical and legal nature, which need to be addressed so as to pave the way for the potential real-world deployment of such systems in a future that may not be too far away.

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  1. The protocol also allows vehicles to cancel a reservation that they already have acquired for a certain time t. This may happen, for instance, when a driver realises that, due to changing traffic conditions, it is likely to arrive at the intersection at some time t’ > t. The auction protocol includes additional constraints that keep agents from strategizing based on this option.

  2. The Directorate-General of Traffic of Spain has signed a cooperation agreement with the company Mobileye to start testing autonomous vehicles on Spanish roads, Vision Zero technology of this company is important when developing autonomously managed intersections especially those where bicycles and pedestrians circulate,… vid. Towards Vision Zero: Intelligent Intersection Infrastructure to enhance safe operations of (self-driving) cars,

  3. National Conference of States Legislatures, and Self-Drive Act, Sec. 5,

  4. Nevada Revised Statutes § 482A,

  5. California Vehicle Code § 38750,

  6. Michigan Vehicle Code § 257.2.b.;

  7. Directive 2010/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 7 July 2010, on the framework for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in the field of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport. In Spain, Royal Decree 662/2012, of April 13, on the framework for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in the field of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport.

  8. On Spanish Smart Cities Plan, 2015, vid.; Estrategia española de i + d + i en inteligencia artificial, 2019, vid. On AENOR Norms in relation to smart cities, vid. Also, there are projects financed by the European Union in relation to intelligent road infrastructure, vid. the Inframix R & D initiative (Road Infrastructure ready for mixed vehicle traffic flows) and Digital Europe programme for the period 2021–2027, For its part, the New York State Law encourages the establishment of communication technology that allows wireless-enabled infrastructure to share information electronically with vehicles and thereby facilitate the progress of the implementation of autonomous vehicles, vid. An Act to emend the transportation law, in relation to establishing a pilot program for vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, of the State of New York, January 30, 2018.

  9. Public domain goods cannot be privately owned; they are outside the private legal trade. They are public property. The decision to declare a category of goods as public goods properties belongs to the legislator through the Law (article 132 of the Spanish Constitution: 1. The legal system governing public domain and community property shall be regulated by law, on the principle that they shall be inalienable and imprescriptible and not subject to attachment or encumbrance. 2. The property of the State public domain shall be established by law and shall, in any case, include coastal area, beaches, territorial waters and natural resources of the economic zone and the continental shelf). Some examples of public goods properties, in Spain, are roads, surface and underground waters, ports, coasts, … (coasts because the Spanish Constitution says it). The reversal would suppose that the good is outside the public domain. The reversal of roads of the public domain would need a Law of reversal. It is a decision of the legislator.

  10. Automated vehicles. Do we know which road to take? Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, 2017.

  11. The non-law Proposition of the Spanish Popular Party states: “The Congress of Deputies urges the Government to establish an adequate legal framework that allows:…

  12. Directive 2004/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 29 April 2004, on the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in the Community. This Directive lays down the conditions necessary to ensure the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in the Community. It applies to the electronic collection of all types of road fees, on the entire Community road network, urban and interurban, motorways, major and minor roads, and various structures such as tunnels, bridges and ferries. Systems of electronic toll collection which are put in place in the Member States should meet the following fundamental criteria: the system should be amenable to ready incorporation of future technological and systems improvements and developments without costly redundancy of older models and methods, the costs of its adoption by commercial and private road users should be insignificant compared with the benefits to those road users as well as to society as a whole, and its implementation in any Member State should be non-discriminatory in all respects between domestic road users and road users from other Member States. In Spain, Royal Decree 94/2006, of February 3, on the interoperability of electronic road toll systems in State roads.

  13. Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court of February 15, 1996; Judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court of February 21, 1997, …

  14. Spanish Decree 215/1973, of 25 January, by which approves the content of the administrative specification sheets for the construction, conservation and operation of highways in concession contract.

  15. Its title is: “An Act to promote the safe integration of autonomous vehicles into the transportation system of the Commonwealth”, 2017, Massachusetts (

  16. Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council; of 27 April 2016; on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) defines ‘profiling’ as “means any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person's performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements.”.

  17. Directive (EU) 2016/1148 of the European parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the Union and Commission Recommendation (EU) 2019/534 of 26 March 2019 Cybersecurity of 5G networks, C/2019/2335, DO L 88 de 29.3.2019, p. 42/47.


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This work has been partially supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, co-funded by EU FEDER Funds, through Grants TIN2015-65515-C4-X-R (SURF) and RTI2018-095390-B-C33 (InEDGEMobility).

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Santos, JA., Fernández, A., Moreno-Rebato, M. et al. Legal and ethical implications of applications based on agreement technologies: the case of auction-based road intersections. Artif Intell Law 28, 385–414 (2020).

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  • Agreement technologies
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Intersection management
  • Intelligent transportation systems
  • Ethical and legal aspects
  • Spanish law