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Germany: Government Proposes Automated Driving Act

(Feb. 9, 2017) On January 25, 2017, the German government agreed on a draft act that would allow the driver to transfer control of the vehicle to highly or fully automated driving systems and for those vehicles to be used on public roads. Completely autonomous driving, meaning the driving system controls the vehicle completely and there are no drivers, only passengers, would not be allowed. (Gesetzentwurf der Bundesregierung, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Änderung des Straßenverkehrsgesetzes [Draft Act of the Federal Government, Draft Act to Amend the Road Traffic Act] (Draft Act), Deutscher Bundesrat: Drucksachen und Protokolle [BR-Drs.] 69/17 (Jan. 27, 2017), Bundesrat website.)

“Highly automated driving systems” are defined as systems that the driver does not need to monitor all the time. The system alerts the driver if he or she has to take over the driving functions.  (Die Bundesregierung [The Federal Government], Gesetz im Kabinett: Automatisiertes Fahren auf dem Weg [Law from the Cabinet: Automated Driving on the Way] (Jan. 25, 2017), Federal Government website.)

“Fully automated driving systems” are defined as driving systems that the driver does not need to monitor.  The driving system is capable of establishing a “minimal risk situation” at all times.  (Id.)

Features of the Draft Law

The draft act contains the following provisions:

  • The driver would be allowed to transfer driving tasks to a highly or fully automated driving system that conforms to international requirements (e.g., those contained in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic or in European Union legislation) if the system is used in accordance with its intended purpose. (Draft Act, § 1a.)
  • The driver would be obligated to take over the driving functions from the automated driving system without undue delay if the driving system told him to do so or if the driver realized or should have realized that the conditions for using an automated driving system were no longer fulfilled, e.g., if a tire were damaged. (Id. § 1b.)
  • A “black box” in the car would record whether the vehicle was being controlled by the driver or by the driving system. In addition, it would record when the vehicle requested the driver to take over or when there was a technical malfunction of the automated driving system. The records would have to be made available to the authorities upon request. (Id. § 63a.)
  • If someone were to die or be injured in an accident due to the malfunctioning of a fully or highly automated driving system, the maximum amount that the victim would be allowed to recover would be raised to €10 million (about US$10.8 million), double the current maximum of €5 million for all driving accident cases. (Id. § 12.)

Next Procedural Steps 

The Federal Government forwarded the draft act to the Bundesrat for discussion. The Bundesrat, the constitutional body through which the German states participate in the legislative process, generally has six weeks to debate draft legislation.  (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (May 23, 1949), BGBl. I at 1, as amended, art. 76 ¶ 2, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE (unofficial English translation).) Due to the “particular urgency” of this act, the Federal Government set a shorter deadline of three weeks.  (Id.)  After the deadline has passed, the Federal Government will forward the draft act, along with the comments of the Bundesrat, to the German Bundestag (parliament) for discussion.  (Id.)

The draft act is one of several measures to create a legal framework to implement the “Strategy on Automated and Interconnected Driving” of the Federal Government. (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und Digitale Infrastruktur (BMVI) [Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure], Strategie automatisiertes und vernetztes Fahren [Strategy on Automated and Interconnected Driving] (Sept. 2015), BMVI website.) On December 13, 2016, an act implementing an amendment to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, an international treaty, entered into force in Germany, which allowed the transfer of driving tasks to vehicles themselves. This amendment to the Vienna Convention concerns technical requirements for automated driving systems.  (Jenny Gesley, Germany: Road Regulations Amended to Allow Autonomous Vehicles, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 15, 2016); Convention on Road Traffic, Nov. 8, 1968, 1042 U.N.T.S. 15705, UNECE website.)