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Harsh Criticism for German Draft Law on Autonomous Driving

In January German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt presented a new draft bill for autonomous driving with the aim of achieving legal certainty for car manufacturers. It lays down the driver’s obligation to take vehicle control in case of emergency. Apart from that he is allowed to do other activities during the autonomous drive. The industry claimed a regulation on autonomous driving by the end of the legislative period in 2017. But the draft law has already met fierce criticism – especially in terms of lacking data protection and the one-sided responsibility resting with the human driver.

Liability in the event of an accident

At the end of March 2017 the German Bundestag held a hearing on the topic consulting politicians and technical experts. The distribution of responsibilities was criticized by Jürgen Bönninger, Managing Director of FSD GmbH, which is developing innovative car testing technologies. The driver is obligated to take the responsibility without knowing what exact activities he is allowed to perform inside. Bönninger stated that, if the autonomous vehicle is to blame for an accident, the manufacturer has to be held liable – not the driver. The ADAC emphasizes the manufacturers’ duty to provide safe technology. He has to implement the intended use in way that supports the human driver and does not burden him. Another point of critique addresses the draft’s inaccurate terminology as well as definitions of relationships.

Data security: unsatisfactory

Data privacy activist Peter Büttgen mentioned a lack of precision regarding data storage and transmission from the autonomous car. The bill neither contains information on the data volume that is collected nor applicable specifications on data processing. There are also no time limits for deletion of the data collected. In case of an accident you need valid data on who was driving at the time of the accident (human or computer), if there was a takeover request by the driver and if there were any system failures to determine liability. That is why the law must not lose sight of data protection.
In fact Dobrindt is working on a strategy paper directed more toward data protection, as the German newspaper Welt reported. It involves the planning of a digital pass that captures data collection activities. Data acquisition shall take place without the drivers’ consent and anonymously. Latter is also demanded by the ADAC – not only in the context of an accident but also when it comes to traffic offenses. Otherwise many drivers would claim that their car was driving in autonomous mode during the incident and nobody would be able to prove if they were telling the truth.

VDA: “No changes needed”

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) however sees no reason to change the draft law. If manufacturers cleared up technical possibilities and limits of the vehicles, there would not be any problems. The identification of limits should not be bound to the manual but also communicated actively in the car. This was also requested by jurist and autonomous driving expert Prof. Dr. Dr. Eric Hilgendorf from the University of Würzburg. A particular issue is the term “Intended Use” – it needs an exact definition of what is meant by this term, because it is used several times within the draft bill.

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: