Articles, Level 5 Autonomous Driving

Germany is getting serious about autonomous driving

German Federal Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) took the first step towards installing a new law for autonomous driving by presenting a draft legislation for autonomous driving. The law’s relevance has its origins in the year 1968, when several countries signed an agreement, the so called “Vienna Convention on Road Traffic”. The treaty for example specified that human drivers must have full control over their vehicle at any time as autonomous vehicles were not invented yet. The USA for instance did not join the agreement, but Germany did.

In the meantime the treaty was modified in order to enhance vehicle automation. Last April the EU transport ministers met in Amsterdam to discuss the future of autonomous driving. In this context various car manufacturers showcased their automated vehicles. The final declaration, also called the “Amsterdam Declaration”, stated the common objective to regulate intelligent traffic throughout the EU by the year 2019.

Liability is the issue

In October 2016 the German Ministry of Transport appointed former constitutional judge Udo di Fabio the Head of the project Ethics Committee. Latter is supposed to take care of liability issues and dilemma scenarios. Those are scenarios in which the car will cause an unavoidable accident but has multiple options to affect the accident’s effects. One of the most discussed scenarios is the one in which the car has to decide between saving a child or a senior citizen.

One month later a new law for semi-autonomous driving came into effect in Germany. It regulates that the driver has to maintain control over the vehicle. Thus he has to concentrate on traffic being supported by aid systems. The law’s purpose is to provide manufacturers with legal security. Shortly after an additional law was planned, providing that the driver has to accept liability in most areas. The law was severely criticized by the German National Association of Consumer Advice Centers.

Dobrindt: “The world’s most modern road traffic law”

Now politics are going to launch another attempt with a different focus. Federal Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt describes the draft as “the world’s most modern road traffic law”. The law refers to vehicle operation in real traffic, not only to testing like it is the case in Michigan.

On 25 January the Germany government approved the draft law. At the core is the equality of human and machine during the drive. Drivers shall be allowed to let the steering wheel go if they are looking for other occupations whilst sitting in a car like surfing the internet. However he must be able to take control of the vehicle in case of doubt (like a punctured tire). That is why steering wheels are still indispensable for a car’s cockpit. So says the ministry’s official declaration.

Opposition: Still too many gaps

In order to find out what happened during an accident, automated cars must be equipped with a blackbox. However there are still missing regulations on data storage frequency and about who is going to analyze the data. The opposition in the Bundestag criticized the document’s wording, because it lacks details of the activities drivers are permitted to perform off the wheel. Only the drivers’ duties are described. Also the question on the time a distracted driver has to find his focus again remains undefined. This results in the impression that the draft law was only designed for the benefit of the German automotive industry.

The above facts show that it will take some time to pass the new law through the Bundestag and Bundesrat. At least Dieter Zetsche, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, wants the law to come into effect before the elections during fall 2017.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: