The development towards autonomous driving in road traffic has gained enormous momentum in the recent past. Germany has presented itself as a pioneer country in this field. In this country, traditional car manufacturers are in competition with newcomers and technology companies from outside the sector. In the following, I do my best to get you involved in the varied events that are related to the Germany AVs.
According to the 2020 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, Germany retained the fourth place it held in the former edition of the AVRI for technology and innovation, where it surpassed the innovation capability measure and was one of five countries getting the highest rating for industry partnerships. It was third on both AV-related patents and on investments in AV-related companies. This strength has been demonstrated by the innovation shown by German vehicle manufacturers in their international work. In January 2019, Daimler Trucks unveiled its Freightliner Cascadia, the first truck in North America to include some automated assistance, at Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Daimler said it would spend EUR500 million on AV trucking, with Daimler Trucks chief executive Martin Daum announcing a goal of “highly automated driving” within a decade. Highly automated driving allows drivers to hand over control of the vehicle completely to the computer in specific situations, such as stop-and-go traffic on the freeway.
However, they must be able to take back vehicle guidance completely within a few seconds if the vehicle prompts them to do so. In September 2019, the company started to test a fully autonomous Freightliner Cascadia on public roads in Virginia in the US, although with a safety driver present. In February 2019, BMW and Daimler said they would collaborate on AV technology that will work on both highways and in urban areas, with Volkswagen’s executive chief saying it might join this work. BMW is involved in tests in China, and testing sites in the Czech Republic and Hungary both involve German manufactures. But Germany’s relative performance has declined on the other pillars, meaning the country drops six places overall. In December 2019, the cross-sectoral National Platform Future of Mobility, convened by the Federal Government, published its recommendations regarding actions needed for the introduction of autonomous driving, in particular regarding licensing, data exchange, and legislation and consumer acceptance.
The last year has seen public transport providers moving tests of autonomous buses from closed areas to public roads, including operators in Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig and national railway company Deutsche Bahn. However, they have made different technology choices with Hamburg’s bus operator working on communications infrastructure built into roads but Leipzig’s preferring to place this technology on buses. Such divergence is typical of Germany’s development of AVs, according to Moritz Pustow, Partner, KPMG Law in Germany. “We have a lot of movement at the municipality level, but we still lack a Germany-wide strategy”, he says. “The discussion is broad. We see cross-sectoral roundtables, there is a federal strategy for automated and connected driving from 2015, the legislation allows for level 4 driving since 2017 and we see AV test-beds on federal highways and on a local level. However, success will depend on the 11,000 German municipalities and we see a lack of strategy and coordination on that level.” Pustow added that people in the Germany may be less keen on adopting AVs than elsewhere, partly due to a national skepticism over new technologies. “Driving cars is an expression of freedom as well, and this is maybe stronger than in other countries,” he adds (1)
In order to ensure interoperability within side the globalized world, there is a need for uniform and harmonized rules at the worldwide level – whether for technical specifications, for the necessary adaptations on public roads, or for specific operational scenarios, such as shuttle services. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (under Federal Minister Scheuer) is now planning another milestone with its new legislative proposal on autonomous driving and hopes to pave the way for autonomous vehicles to take to the country’s roads. The draft act is currently still subject to several consultation processes, with the legislation expected to be passed in mid-2021. But the question that may be risen in this point is that what the goal is. On the one hand, the legislative proposal aims to introduce a set of rules that will enable “Level 5” autonomous vehicles to drive regularly on public roads in Germany by 2022, thus handing the country a substantial lead as a pioneer in this field. What is more, it will mean that autonomous vehicles are no longer a thing of fiction, bringing them out of research and into everyday use. To this end, the proposed act focuses specifically on regulating the rights and obligations of those persons involved in actually operating vehicles with autonomous driving functions. It also takes up the challenge of introducing rules for complex areas of law, such as data processing in vehicles that use autonomous and automated driving functions. As an interim solution, the act constitutes a major contribution on the long road to establishing international standards, which are necessary to gradually close the legal gaps that still exist in this area due to the lack of harmonized legal provisions. (2)
The draft regulation is currently still undergoing a wide variety of departmental consultations and is expected to be passed by mid-2021. Since the act consists of technical provisions, which could in turn lead to certain trade barriers within the meaning of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), it will also have to go through the EU notification procedure. (2)
It can be predicted that the act will regulate the following key points, which are indispensable if autonomous vehicles are ever to be allowed on public roads: (2)
Technical requirements for vehicles that use autonomous driving functions, and the conditions for their approval
Legal requirements for data protection as well as the obligations for those persons involved in operating the vehicles
Operational scenarios and expanding the use of autonomous vehicles, such as for shuttle services, hub-to-hub transport, dual-mode vehicles, etc.
In sum, automated and autonomous driving will constitute a vital part of the Germany’s mobility. Although there are still unresolved issues on their way to autonomous driving, glorious perspectives for this pioneer country in this field is obviously imaginable.
(1) 2020 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index