Germany paves the way for adoption of autonomous vehicles

24 May 2021

The Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, has passed a new draft law on autonomous driving. This paves the way for a legal framework that allows SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles to drive in specified operating areas on public roads. Consequently, Germany aims to be the first country in the world to bring fully-autonomous vehicles out of the research domain and into everyday life.

The new law focuses on flexibility, making the operation of fully-autonomous vehicles possible under a large number of application scenarios. With the specified operating area being the only limitation, individual permits, exceptions and requirements - such as the presence of a driver who is always ready to intervene - will no longer be necessary.

‘Germany should take a leading role in autonomous driving. In order to make optimal use of the great potential of autonomous and networked driving, the Federal Government wants to promote research and development and thus make the mobility of the future more versatile, safer, more environmentally-friendly and more user-oriented,’ stated the federal ministry of transport and digital infrastructure (BMVI).

The ministry also emphasised that the automotive industry should intensify its efforts in autonomous driving. As agreed at the third ‘Concerted Mobility Action’ meeting on 8 September 2020, the industry wants to use the testing opportunities in Germany to make automated and autonomous vehicles ‘tangible’ - especially in rural areas.

The application scenarios include:

  • Shuttle services from A to B;
  • People movers (buses that travel on a specified route);
  • Hub2Hub movement of goods (for example, between two distribution centres);
  • Demand-oriented offers in off-peak times;
  • The first-mile or last-mile transport of people and/or goods; and
  • ‘Dual-mode vehicles’ such as automated valet parking (AVP).

Uniform regulations

Although the new law seems to open Germany to comparatively unrestricted use of fully-autonomous vehicles, there are several regulatory aspects. These range from technical requirements for the manufacturing, quality, and equipment of motor vehicles with autonomous-driving functions, to the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) issuing operating licences for the vehicles. There are also regulations concerning the ‘obligations of the persons involved in the operation of vehicles with an autonomous-driving function’, as well as those relating to data processing and the activation of ‘sleeping functions’ that already exist on type-approved vehicles. The uniform regulations to enable testing are being created and will be adapted going forward.

‘Germany will be the first country in the world to bring autonomous vehicles from research laboratories onto the road - we have now come one decisive step closer to this goal. I am very pleased that the German Bundestag has cleared the way and passed the draft law on autonomous driving. The draft is now going to the Bundesrat for approval. We need speedy implementation for innovations in the transformation process, so that Germany can continue to be the number one international leader in autonomous driving,’ commented federal minister Andreas Scheuer.

The draft law will be submitted to the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, for approval on 28 May. The aim is to bring vehicles with autonomous-driving functions into regular operation by 2022. The BMVI will evaluate the effects of the law after the end of 2023 and inform the Bundestag of the results. This is with a view to future developments in the field of autonomous driving, as well as updating international regulations and ensuring compatibility with data-protection rules.

International context

The existing German law on automated driving, the eighth amendment to the road traffic law, came into force on 21 June 2017. The crucial change was that SAE Level 3 automated systems could take over driving under certain conditions. However, a driver is still necessary, who can react to the traffic situation and take control of a vehicle that is operating in automated mode. The new autonomous-driving law is an interim solution until there are harmonised international regulations.

Germany has a great interest in creating these rules, and the BMVI will work resolutely to develop the legal framework further at both EU and UNECE levels. Due to an earlier German initiative, use of the SAE Level 3 Automated Lane-Keeping System (ALKS), which can be used at speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour, has been adopted by the UN.

Meanwhile, the UK Government, has just announced that vehicles with ALKS could be seen on British roads for the first time later this year. Daily Brief journalist Tom Geggus discussed whether ALKS should be labelled ‘self-driving’ with David Williams, AXA’s managing director overseeing underwriting and technical services.

With active German participation, work is already underway to expand the UN regulation on ALKS. The aim is to allow an increase in speed, up to 130 kilometres per hour, and to unlock the ability of the system to change lanes.