On November 3, 2021, the Swiss government (Bundesrat) approved an amendment to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic that opens the way for the use of autonomous vehicles in the country. The amendment to article 8 (new paragraph 5bis) of the Convention allows transferring driving tasks to the vehicle itself, provided that the technologies used are in conformity with United Nations vehicle regulations or can be overridden or switched off by the driver.
The Swiss Constitution (Bundesverfassung, BV) requires the federal government and the cantons to comply with international law (BV art. 5, para. 4), and all judicial authorities must apply it as well (art. 190). Switzerland follows the doctrine of monism, meaning that rights contained in international agreements are automatically incorporated into national law without the need for a domestic implementing law. If there is a conflict between national and international law, international law takes precedence.
Background on the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic
The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic is an international treaty concluded in 1968 that currently has 85 state parties. Switzerland ratified the Convention on December 11, 1991. Two of the major world powers, the United States and China, are not parties to the agreement. The latest country to ratify the Convention on Road Traffic was Ethiopia on August 25, 2021. According to the preamble, the Convention “desires to facilitate international road traffic and to increase road safety through the adoption of uniform traffic rules.” Before the amendment, article 8 of the Convention required that “[e]very driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle.”In 2014, the governments of Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy proposed amending article 8 of the Convention to allow automated driving technologies. As justification, they argued that traffic accidents are predominantly caused by human error and that automated driving systems support the driver in the driving task, thereby having “the potential to take immediate beneficiary influence on road safety or to do the same by reducing drivers’ workload.” (Report of the Sixty-Eighth Session of the Working Party on Road Traffic Safety at 11.) That amendment to the Convention entered into force on March 23, 2016.