German Law Paves Way for Self-Driving Cars

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By Jabeen Bhatti

Semi-autonomous cars can hit the road in Germany under a new legal framework taking effect June 21.

A recently passed German Road Transport Law (StVG) amendment clarifies issues of driver responsibility and liability for accidents by requiring that drivers stay aware of surrounding traffic and are able to resume control of their cars at any time.

It also requires car manufacturers to equip the vehicles with black boxes to record information on when a driver assumes or hands off control or is prompted to manually override a car’s system.

The new regulatory framework shows that Germany is determined to become a world leader in autonomous driving, attorneys said.

“The German government intends to lead the evolution and development in the sector of connected cars and automatic driving,” Carlo Piltz, an attorney at Reuschlaw in Berlin, told Bloomberg BNA. “This new law is one step toward this goal.”

Car Manufacturers: New Law A ‘Major Step’

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) has said car manufacturers and suppliers—who are planning to invest 16 to 18 billion euros ($17.8 billion to $20 billion) in digitization over the next three to four years—support the government’s strategy of making Germany a market leader in autonomous driving and the legal certainty the new law provides for both drivers and industry.

Still, the law leaves a number of questions on self-driving cars and their use in practice unresolved, attorneys said.

For instance, “The driver may turn away from the traffic situation, but has to remain aware in a way that he can immediately take control of the vehicle,” said Piltz. “The question in practice will of course arise: how long ’immediately’ may be?”

And although the law tries to limit the amount and type of data that can be transmitted to authorities in case of an accident, it’s unclear how that would work, given that drivers are responsible for data transmissions, attorneys said.

“It’s questionable whether the driver or car owner is technically capable of selecting the data in such a way that it is limited to the necessary extent,” said Piltz. “This could mean that the driver or car owner would have to transmit all data although the competent agency doesn’t actually need all this data.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jabeen Bhatti in Berlin at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The Amendment to the Road Transport Law (StVG) can be found, in German, at: goo.gl/1rRdp6

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