Bringing autonomous driving into the realm of practice

Mobility Bringing autonomous driving into the realm of practice

Trucks that deliver their goods independently to the distribution centre, cars and buses that carry their passengers independently and safely to their destination – the Federal Government has launched legislation that is to permit vehicles without drivers in specifically defined areas. Here is an overview in the form of FAQs.

Multifaceted, safe, good for the environment and for users – that is the mobility the Federal Government wants to ensure for the future. That is why the framework for the use of automated and autonomous vehicles in road traffic is to be continually improved.

What rules currently apply for autonomous driving?

Since 21 June 2017 the Act on Automated Driving has been on the statute books. It regulates the operation of highly automated vehicles. Under certain circumstances these vehicles may take over driving independently, but there must always be a driver.

Now the next step is to follow. The new legislation is the next key building brick to apply autonomous driving in practice, and to open up opportunities to use the technology in various mobility sectors.

In what areas does the new legislation aim to allow autonomous driving?

Autonomous driving is to be allowed in as many scenarios as possible, and only limited locally to a predetermined area. The various possible applications will not be exhaustively regulated in advance. 

The scenarios include

  • Shuttle transport
  • Automated passenger transport systems over short distances (people movers)
  • Driverless links between logistics centres (hub2hub transport)
  • Demand-driven transport services in rural areas at off-peak times
  • Dual-mode vehicles such as "automated valet parking" (where the driver can leave the vehicle at the front door and instruct the vehicle by smartphone to park in the garage).

What exactly does the legislation regulate?

The legislation puts in place the preconditions for the use of autonomous or self-driving vehicles in public road traffic in regular operation and nationwide – but in the operating areas predefined by the responsible authorities in the Länder.

It regulates, among other things, the obligations of the vehicle owners and the manufacturer as well as the new “technical supervision”, which steers and drives the vehicle, but not at a distance from outside the vehicle. The steering comes only from the autonomous functions of the vehicle itself.

The legislation also provides for enabling what are known as dual-mode vehicles. This might mean driverless parking, for instance. Vehicles of this sort can initially be approved as conventional vehicles and can later activate this function – once national or international regulations are in place.

Where do we go from here with autonomous driving?

This legislation makes Germany the first country in the world to permit self-driving vehicles in regular operation and across the nation.

This regulatory framework aims to allow innovative technology, functions and services to become established rapidly in Germany. It thus offers Germany the chance to drive forward research and development and to mould the mobility of future to make it more diverse, safer, more environmentally friendly and more user-oriented.

As an exporting nation, Germany has a marked interest in the establishment of international rules and regulations. At UN level, Germany is already driving the international harmonisation of automated driving systems, such as automated lane keeping systems. Efforts also aim to achieve harmonisation of autonomous driving in the near future.

Does automated always mean autonomous?

In research and development, a distinction is made between different levels of automation. They are set out in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ SAE levels:

Driver assistance (Level 1): The driver is always responsible for either steering or for the accelerator and brake. In certain situations the other task can be performed by the system. The driver must constantly monitor the system and be ready to take over full control at any time. Driver assistance systems include parking assist systems or an automatic emergency brake assist.

Partial driving automation (Level 2): Level 2 is state of the art today. The system takes over steering, and the accelerator and the brake – but only for a certain time or in certain situations. The driver must constantly monitor the system and be ready to take over full control at any time. One example of this is the active tailback assist.

High automation (Level 3): The system takes over steering, as well as the accelerator and the brake independently for a certain time or in certain situations. The driver does not need to constantly monitor the system but must be ready to take over full control at any time – if requested so to do by the system.

Full automation (Level 4): The system takes full control for a certain time or in certain situations and does not need to be monitored during this. If the system is required to quit automation mode, it requests that the driver take over. If the driver fails to do so, the system brings about the lowest-risk state. This could mean bringing the vehicle to a halt at the edge of the road, for instance.

Autonomous driving (Level 5): The system assumes full control in all traffic situations and at every speed. The “driver” is nothing more than a passenger and is no longer required to intervene in driving.

The Act on Autonomous Driving translates into legislation an agreement set out in the coalition agreement. The objective was specified that by the end of the parliamentary term, the legal framework would be put in place for fully autonomous vehicles in a suitable infrastructure setting.