Automated Driving

Automated Driving

Technological advancements on the road to automation are already showing up today in modern vehicles, which are increasingly equipped with driver assistance systems (DAS).

Innovation leadership of the German automotive industry

Today, mobility systems face many challenges: globalization and urbanization lead to rapid growth in traffic and may bring transport systems to their limits in capacity. By 2050, 70 percent of all people will live in cities. The number of cars is expected to double. Automation and networking, however, offer the chance to meet these global challenges successfully, because driving would become efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. German manufacturers and suppliers wish to further expand their innovation leadership through automated and networked driving. 

In its strategy for automated and networked driving, the federal government has also set the goal of ensuring Germany’s pioneering role in this technology. Automated and networked driving will be brought to the road: from the test runs, through development, to serial production and to regulatory approval. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has defined the following areas of action in which the necessary conditions for the new technology will be created: Infrastructure law, innovation, networking, as well as IT security and data protection.

Currently, nonexistent, incomplete or different national legislative approaches still form a major obstacle on the path to the market introduction of automated and especially autonomous vehicles. Therefore, the goal of the legislatures should be the creation of the regulatory framework. The harmonization of the various rules is in the best interests of a functioning European internal market. To this end, the federal government has announced its strategy for automated and networked driving. 

The prevailing road traffic law does not take into account the different levels of automation. However, national legislative changes are not absolutely necessary. The legislature does not distinguish, in principal, between the technical automation levels. In fact, two cases should be distinguished: On one hand, there are situations where there is a driver, who may partially need to or could potentially take over the driving (automated systems); and on the other hand, there are situations in which the driver is just a passenger, or there is no driver (autonomous systems). Therefore, changes are needed to the rules in force. The existing regulations – particularly the Road Transport Law and the Road Traffic Act – however, do not specifically prohibit the use of automated systems. In the case of an accident, however, the use of the systems could be currently considered a breach of the driver’s duty. This uncertainty should be resolved quickly. 

As a basis for national regulations, the Vienna Convention on road transport was adapted in October, 2015. It changed a previous regulation, according to which drivers had to control their vehicles at all times. The convention now allows automated systems to influence the driving of a vehicle – but only if they could be overruled or turned off at any time by the driver. A first legal basis has been created by this change in the international convention. The VDA advocates that national legislators must now implement this and allow automated driving. 

However, the Vienna Convention still requires that each vehicle must have a driver. Thus, the operation of autonomously driven vehicles without drivers is not possible in the current situation. However, the working group is already working on road safety under the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), in a further expansion of the convention, so in the future autonomous systems could also be permitted. 

In addition, other international technical regulations (UN-RRegulations) need to be revised. This particularly includes the UN Regulation on Steering Systems (UN-R 79). This is because a core feature of automated driving is that the vehicle drives on its own to follow the road or to overtake. UN-R 79 currently provides for automatic steering, but only up to a speed of 10 km/h. This speed limit should be repealed. 

An adaptation of the existing liability laws is not needed for automated driving systems. This is because in case of accidents due to automated driving systems, a comprehensive liability coverage is provided by the owner liability or the manufacturer’s product liability. Insofar as the driver is legally responsible for driving, they are liable in the case of their fault. The liability model described has already proven itself in many automotive innovations and is therefore technologically neutral. For cases, where driver liability should be excluded from the operation of an automated driving system, the statutory maximum amount of liability could be raised in order to avoid potential liability gaps. Only when a system completely takes over the driving task and the driver is a mere passenger, might it be necessary to fundamentally review the rules on liability.


The number of driver assistance systems, that can assist the driver in the driving task, has continued to increase in recent years. There has been a perception that autonomous vehicles may soon be technically feasible. It is much more likely, however, that this development will take place in an evolutionary manner. Automated functions will be developed gradually on the basis of established driver assistance systems and incorporated into more and more new cars. Drivers will be guided step-by-step towards automation. 

Automated driving is expected to be initially practically applied on the highway and in garages. Despite the fast speeds on federal highways, traffic is comparably structured. In parking garages, however, speeds are very slow, which make the situation controllable despite the high complexity. In both cases, a vehicle can detect its surroundings with its own sensors, and the situations are easily controllable. It is obvious that further innovations must be tested, such as the extension of the application of automated functions in the urban environment. The federal government has therefore launched initiatives such as the Digital Test Field Highway that will be extended by urban test fields.

Graham Smethurst
Graham Smethurst Head of Co-ordination Unit Networked and Automated Driving

Tel: +49 30 897842-426 Fax: +49 30 897842-7426
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