On July 28, 2021, the Act Amending the Road Traffic Act and the Compulsory Insurance Act (Autonomous Driving Act) entered into force in Germany. The Autonomous Driving Act allows motor vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities, meaning vehicles that can perform driving tasks independently without a person driving, in specified operating areas on public roads. Provisions concerning autonomous driving in appropriate operating areas correspond to level 4 of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) driving automation levels. A technical supervisor who can deactivate or enable driving maneuvers of the autonomous vehicle from the outside remains necessary. Registered keepers of motor vehicles with the autonomous driving function must obtain additional liability insurance for the technical supervisor.
Background on Autonomous Cars in Germany
The Autonomous Driving Act is one of several measures to create a legal framework to implement the German federal government’s 2015 Strategy for Automated and Connected Driving. Since 2015, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has authorized testing of automated and connected vehicles under real-life conditions. In June 2017, Germany amended its Road Traffic Act to allow drivers to transfer control of their vehicles to highly or fully automated driving systems and for those vehicles to be used on public roads.
Content of the Autonomous Driving Act
Definition of Motor Vehicles with Autonomous Driving Capabilities
The Autonomous Driving Act defines a “motor vehicle with autonomous driving capabilities” as a motor vehicle that “can perform the driving task independently within a defined operating area without a person driving the vehicle” and fulfills certain technical requirements as specified in section 1e, paragraph 2. A defined operating area means “the locally and spatially determined public road space in which a motor vehicle with autonomous driving function may be operated” as approved by the competent state authority. (Autonomous Driving Act art. 1, no. 1, § 1d.)
As examples of motor vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities, the explanatory memorandum to the law names autonomous shuttle buses (“people movers”) and the transport of goods by motor vehicles with autonomous driving functions. (Explanatory Memorandum at 20.)
The technical requirements for autonomous vehicles are listed in the new section 1e, paragraph 2. Among other things, the technical equipment must
- be able to independently comply with the traffic regulations;
- independently bring the motor vehicle into a minimal risk state if travel can be continued only by violating road traffic law;
- have an accident avoidance system;
- immediately notify the technical supervisor of any impairment of its functionality; and
- be capable of being deactivated by the technical supervisor at any time.
The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is authorized to issue more detailed technical requirements. (Autonomous Driving Act art. 1, no. 1, § 1j.)
The accident avoidance system must be designed to avoid and reduce damage and must, if an accident is unavoidable, give the highest priority to the protection of human life. If an injury to human life is unavoidable, it must not provide for any further weighting on the basis of personal characteristics, such as age, sex, and physical or mental constitution. (§ 1e, para. 2, no. 4.) These requirements take account of the findings of the German Ethics Commission on Automated and Connected Driving. (Explanatory Memorandum at 22.)
The duty to comply with traffic regulations that do not relate to vehicle control and that a machine cannot perform, such as wearing a seat belt, rests with the humans in the vehicle. (§ 1f, para. 1.)
Technical supervisors are defined as natural persons who can deactivate the motor vehicle during operation and activate driving maneuvers for the vehicle. (§ 1d, para. 3.) The registered keeper of the motor vehicle acts as the technical supervisor and must ensure that passengers comply with traffic regulations that are not related to vehicle control. (§ 1f, para. 1.) The technical supervision may be delegated to another person.
Supervision and Data Protection
The Federal Motor Transport Authority is tasked with checking whether the vehicle meets the technical requirements. (§ 1e, para. 4.) The manufacturer must submit a certification that the vehicle complies with the technical requirements. Among other things, manufacturers must ensure cybersecurity. (§ 1f, para. 3.)
The registered keeper must store and save the following information—for example, for the evaluation of accidents and near-accident scenarios:
- vehicle identification number
- geographical position data
- number and times of use as well as activation and deactivation of the autonomous driving function
- number and times of authorization of alternative driving maneuvers
- system monitoring data, including software status data
- environmental and weather conditions
- networking parameters such as transmission latency and available bandwidth
- name of the activated and deactivated passive and active security systems, data on the status of these security systems, and the instance that triggered the security system
- vehicle acceleration in the longitudinal and transverse directions
- status of the lighting equipment
- power supply of the motor vehicle with autonomous driving function
- external commands and information sent to the vehicle (§ 1g, paras. 1, 2.)
The Federal Motor Transport Authority and the competent state authority are authorized to collect, store, and use the data referred to above if it is necessary to monitor the safe operation of the motor vehicle with autonomous driving function. (§ 1g, paras. 4–6.) The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure must evaluate the Autonomous Driving Act at the end of 2023. (§ 1l, para. 1.)