A secure legal framework for automated driving
To push automated driving forward, the automotive industry needs a secure legal framework – both at national level and in the global context. The right conditions should be put in place so that vehicles can assume tasks that today only the vehicle’s driver is allowed to perform.
The “Vienna Convention” of 1968 states that the driver must be in control of their vehicle at all times. In March 2014, the relevant working group of UNECE (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) approved an amendment to the corresponding article. According to this amendment, highly automated systems that continue to have a driver ready to take over the driving functions, and who can override the system and switch it on and off, will in the future be in accordance with the “Vienna Convention.” The amended convention still demands that every vehicle must have a driver. Therefore another amendment process will be necessary to permit driverless vehicles. The road traffic legislation (e.g. the German Road Traffic Act (StVG) and German Road Traffic Regulations (StVO)), will require reforms to accommodate Level 3 upwards. It would also be expedient to amend the German traffic rules for highly automated driving functions in order to make the driver’s obligations more specific and to legitimize the use of onboard infotainment systems during highly automated journeys, and in general for transferring driving tasks to systems. And finally, the international legislation governing motor vehicle registration will have to be adapted so that automatic steering systems, for instance, can be introduced for operation at speeds over 10 km/h.
From today’s standpoint, there are still legal, ethical, and social challenges that would have to be resolved for automation Levels 3 and 4 upwards. The VDA and the German automotive industry are bringing these issues proactively into the public discourse in a transparent, responsible, and sustainable approach to this future technology. If dilemmas occur, the technical system should never weigh up human lives, but must minimize the consequences of an accident by braking and taking evasive action. In such circumstances, a highly automated system reacts faster, more rationally, and with better anticipation than the human driver. Sensors such as radar, cameras, and laser scanners are able to detect cyclists and pedestrians. However, at present they cannot differentiate, e.g. by age, and that will not be possible in the near future either. Without this information, many of the constructed dilemma situations do not currently occur for the technical system. The German automotive industry is working on internationally harmonized requirements for vehicle users. German national law will also have to be amended so that Germany can set the pace of developments in this area. The secure legal framework that should be established at national and international level for automated driving will simultaneously bring about investment security for the manufacturers and suppliers on their home market.
For Germany, digitization of mobility represents an opportunity to become the international leader in this field. Expertise in development leads to expertise in solutions. The German companies operate within and appreciate our legal framework. If we do not lead the field, then others will, with different legal foundations. And against this backdrop Germany should play a pioneering role in the global network.