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Germany: Road Regulations Amended to Allow Autonomous Vehicles

(Dec. 15, 2016) On December 13, 2016, an act implementing an amendment to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic entered into force in Germany. The amendment allows the transfer of driving tasks to the vehicle itself, provided that the technologies used are in conformity with the United Nations vehicle regulations or can be overridden or switched off by the driver.  (Gesetz zur Änderung der Artikel 8 und 39 des Übereinkommens vom 8. November 1968 über den Straßenverkehr [Act to Amend Articles 8 and 39 of the Convention on Road Traffic of November 8, 1968], Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] [Federal Law Gazette] II at 1306 (Dec. 7, 2016).)

In Germany, international treaties such as the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic require the adoption of implementing legislation to become effective as a matter of domestic law.  (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (May 23, 1949), art. 59 ¶ 2, BGBl. I at 1, as amended, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE (unofficial English translation).)

Background

The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic is an international treaty concluded in 1968 with 74 current State Parties. Germany ratified the Convention on August 3, 1978.  Two of the major world powers, the United States and China, are not parties to the agreement.  (Legal Instruments in the Field of Transport, Convention on Road Traffic, Vienna (Nov. 8, 1968), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) website (last visited Dec. 14, 2016).) According to the Preamble, the Convention “desires to facilitate international road traffic and to increase road safety through the adoption of uniform traffic rules.”  Originally, article 8 of the Convention required that “[e]very driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle … .”  (Convention on Road Traffic, Nov. 8, 1968, 1042 U.N.T.S. 15705, UNECE website.)

In 2014, the governments of Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy proposed amending article 8 of the Convention to allow automated driving technologies. (UNECE, Inland Transport Committee, Working Party on Road Traffic Safety, Report of the Sixty-Eighth Session of the Working Party on Road Traffic Safety (Apr. 17, 2014), UNECE website.) As justification, they argued that traffic accidents are predominantly caused by human error and that automated driving systems enhance road safety.  (Id. at 11.)  The amendment to the Convention entered into force on March 23, 2016.  (Press Release, UNECE Paves the Way for Automated Driving by Updating UN International Convention, UNECE website (Mar. 23, 2016).)