Federal government approves draft law enabling autonomous driving in Germany


Germany’s federal government has approved a draft law allowing autonomously-driven cars to be active on the country’s road network, with ‘black box’ technology required on the vehicles to decide liability in the event of an accident.

Crucially within the law, responsibility for mishaps continues to rest firmly in the hands of the driver, but allows for the driver to hand control of their vehicle to the vehicle’s own autonomous control system in certain situations and for certain periods of time. The draft law also stipulates that the driver must be able to instantly override or deactivate the system at any time. The law would also require autonomously driven cars to carry a form of ‘black box’, which would record all driving data and thereby be decisive in disputes over liability, should the automated driving technology fail. The preparations and specifications of such a piece of technology are currently being processed through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Germany is a pioneering country in the quest to make autonomous driving a reality. Sections of public highway have already been approved as live testing zones, with the German Ministry of Transport launching a project that has seen a section of the A9 autobahn that connects Berlin and Munich set up for connected and autonomous vehicle testing. The route has been equipped with infrastructure provisions for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication using 5G and LVE technology and the 700MHz radio spectrum. The country’s three major auto makers, Daimler/Mercedes, BMW and the Volkswagen-Audi Group, and its automotive technology, mapping and telecommunications companies, have also been conducting intense testing and R&D activities. The Institute for the German Economy (IW) estimates that Germany has registered 58% of all global patents in autonomous driving since 2010.

“The developments within this industry allow German car makers, and especially their suppliers, the chance to jump into a new market and establish themselves as leaders, or challengers to established brands,” said Rico Trost, manager of transport technologies at Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI), the federal economic development agency.

“Legislation often moves slower than the technology itself, but this draft law shows the willingness of the German government to support the development of disruptive, innovative technology. Through taking the lead in this way, Germany will continue to be a pioneering location in the field of autonomous driving for years to come.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).