With technology progressing steadily, the remaining challenges to a wider, serial roll-out of higher levels of automated driving in vehicles (SAE Levels 3 and above) are still to be found in the current regulatory framework in Germany.
Car manufacturers have thus taken a phased approach focusing primarily on introducing partially and certain highly automated driving functions into premium vehicles – while fully automated (with the driver still capable of exerting control) and even autonomous driving functionality (no human driver, only human passengers) is, at least on public roads, still reserved to the testing stage.
The pressure on the German and European legislators for further promotion of the adaptation of the current regulatory framework to allow for higher levels of automated or even autonomous driving functionality has increased. With the automotive industry being an important pillar of the economy, the German parliament has passed a long expected revision of the German Road Traffic Act (Straßenverkehrsgesetz), which is perceived to provide additional guidance on the permissibility of certain levels of automated driving. A similar milestone is seen from the technology regulation side in the most recent and still ongoing adaptations to the UNECE regulations.
The question of liability for accidents involving highly- or fully-autonomous vehicles is in the focus of the evolving legal discussions. Under the German liability regime, generally (1) the driver, (2) the keeper and / or (3) the manufacturers can be held liable for damages caused by road accidents. Mirroring an expected change of the main causes for traffic accidents, in which the nowadays preeminent human error is widely substituted by technical failures triggered by an increase in automation, responsibility – and hence liability – is likely to shift towards the OEM / supplier (respectively their insurers). De lege lata, this effect could be fostered by the recent changes to the German Road Traffic Act.
Automated driving event
All of the above and additional topics on automated driving will be discussed at our upcoming Automated Driving – Logistics and Other Mobility Solutions event on Thursday 29 November in Germany at our Munich office.