Autonomous mobility is an area where the European Union (EU) has shared competences with the member states, which means that EU countries exercise their own competence where the EU does not exercise, or has decided not to exercise, its own competence.
As the digitalization of the automotive industry is rapidly changing our transport and mobility routine, on May 17, 2018, the European Commission (Commission) adopted a strategy paper ̶ On the road to automated mobility: An EU strategy for mobility of the future ̶ which is part of the Commission’s third mobility package. The Commission’s strategy aims to make Europe a world leader for fully automated and connected mobility systems. It provides a common vision and identifies supporting actions for development and deployment of the key technologies, services and infrastructure. It will ensure that EU legal and policy frameworks are ready to support the deployment of safe connected and automated mobility, while simultaneously addressing societal and environmental concerns.
This article provides a review of existing legal measures proposed by the EU and its respective member states regarding the deployment and use of autonomous vehicles.
Understanding autonomous vehicles
An automated vehicle is a motor vehicle (car, truck or bus) that has technology dedicated to assist the driver so that elements of the driving task can be transferred to a computer system. Meanwhile, an autonomous vehicle is a fully automated vehicle equipped with the technologies capable of performing all driving functions without any human intervention.
In order to facilitate the understanding of different automated technologies within the technical and policy domains, the Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE International, has proposed a six-level classification of road vehicles: from Level 0 – no automation, to Level 5 – full automation. The classification takes into consideration a vehicle’s capability to control its position, understand different environments and allow the driver to dedicate his attention to other activities during the travel.
Level 0 – No automation: the driver is responsible for monitoring the environment and performing all the dynamic driving tasks on a continuous basis during the journey. Nevertheless, two sets of systems that intervene without the input of the driver fall into this class: warning systems, e.g. Park Distance Control, Front Collision Warning; and emergency systems, e.g. Anti-Lock System, Electronic Stability Control and Emergency Braking. Although it includes systems that actually provide lateral and/or longitudinal control under specific situations (e.g. when braking), these functions are still considered non-automated as they intervene for short and non-sustained periods.
Level 1 – Driver assistance: automated systems of Level 1 execute parts of the dynamic driving task (longitudinal or lateral control). The human driver is responsible for the remaining aspects of driving, including object and event detection and response, supervision of the automated dynamic driving task, execution of the dynamic driving tasks that are not automated and activation or deactivation of the assistance system. Examples of Driver Assistance systems include Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Parking Assist with automated steering, and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA).
Level 2 – Partial automation: these systems execute parts of both the longitudinal (accelerating/breaking) and lateral (steering) control. The driver is responsible for monitoring and responding to the conditions of the driving environment and for supervising and activating/deactivating the automated systems. Under this automation level, the driver could be disengaged from physically operating the vehicle in certain circumstances (e.g. can have his hands off the steering wheel). Nevertheless, the driver needs to monitor the driving environment at all times and be able to immediately take full control of the vehicle when necessary. Level 2 systems include advanced Park and Traffic Jam Assist systems.
Level 3 – Conditional automation: Level 3 systems are able to perform all the aspects of one or more dynamic driving tasks and safety functions, including monitoring of the driving environment under certain conditions (e.g. traffic jams on motorways). The driver is not required to constantly monitor the automated dynamic driving tasks while the Level 3 system is active, but needs to be able to take over control with appropriate reaction time when required. The system needs to alert the driver in advance if conditions require transition to driver control. Level 3 systems include Traffic Jam Chauffeur and Highway Chauffeur systems.
Level 4 – High automation: these systems perform all the aspects of the dynamic driving tasks under specific conditions in a similar way to Level 3 systems. However, systems under Level 4 do not require a human driver to provide a fall back, as they are capable of initiating deactivation when design conditions are no longer met, fully deactivating only when the driver takes control or a minimal risk condition is achieved. Consequently, the driver might perform secondary actions, even those requiring a long reaction time, while the automated mode is active.
Level 5 – Full automation: Level 5 systems are capable of performing all aspects of the dynamic driving tasks under all roadway and environmental conditions. Designed to autonomously complete journeys without the need of a human driver, these are the only autonomous systems that can be properly named “self-driving vehicles” according to the definition provided at the beginning above.
Regulatory and Legal Framework for Automated Vehicles
Road traffic is a highly regulated area as it bears huge risks for all traffic users. In order for autonomous vehicles to become commonplace in the EU by 2030, the regulatory and enabling framework shall be in place.
The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968 (Vienna Convention of 1968) is an international treaty designed to facilitate international road traffic and to increase road safety by establishing standard traffic rules among the contracting parties. All EU member states are signatories of the Vienna Convention – only Spain has not ratified it (Turkey ratified in 2013).
One of the fundamental principles of the Vienna Convention of 1968 is the concept, as laid down in Article 8, that a driver is always fully in control and responsible for the behavior of a vehicle in traffic: Article 8 (1): “Every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver...”, Article 8 (5): “Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle…“.
In March 2014, an amendment to the Vienna Convention of 1968 was made stating that “systems which influence the way vehicles are driven“, as well as other systems, which can be overridden or switched off by the driver, are deemed to be in accordance with Article 8. However, the amended convention still demands that every vehicle must have a driver. A further amendment process is therefore necessary to permit driverless vehicles.
Some countries that have ratified the Vienna Convention of 1968 believe that it does not prohibit the testing or use of automated vehicles. They state that the convention requires a driver to be able to control their vehicle, and it does not determine that a driver must be in their vehicle, nor defines the word “control “. Therefore, a driver, even if not in the vehicle, could control it by choosing a destination and route, and letting the automated vehicle steer, accelerate, and brake.
Technical requirements for vehicles are internationally harmonized in the framework of the two United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) agreements: The 1958 agreement provides the framework for establishing international UN Regulations with uniform performance-oriented test provisions and administrative procedures for granting type approvals, for the conformity of production and for the mutual recognition of the type of approvals granted; while the 1998 agreement concerns the establishing of global technical regulations for the construction of new vehicles, including performance requirements. Its purpose is to further enhance the process of international harmonization through the development of global technical regulations. The 1998 agreement applies in parallel to the 1958 agreement. The EU is a contracting party to both of the agreements.
A legislative framework dedicated to the approval of automated vehicles in the EU does not yet exist, however, existing EU legislation is to a large extent already suitable for the placing on the market of automated and connected vehicles. At the EU level, Directive 2007/46/EC, modernised in 2018 and which becomes applicable from September 1, 2020, regulates how new vehicles should operate and be designed. Within the EU, mass-produced cars may only be used on public roads if they are type-approved in compliance with the administrative procedures and technical requirements established by the Directive.
On March 2019 the Commission published a delegated regulation which aims at stepping up the deployment of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) on roads across the EU. C-ITS connect all road users and traffic managers so that they may share and use information in real time. This delegated act requires vehicles, traffic signs and motorways to be equipped with technology to send standardized messages to all traffic participants around them. This cooperative element is expected to significantly improve road safety, traffic efficiency and comfort while driving, by helping the driver to make the right decisions and adapt to the traffic situation.
In the EU it is already possible to validate new and ground-breaking vehicle automation technologies under the EU vehicle approval framework mentioned above. Nevertheless, technologies not foreseen by current EU rules can be approved through the so-called EU exemption – granted on the basis of a national ad-hoc safety assessment. On April 9, 2019, the Technical Committee – Motor vehicles (TCMV) of the Commission published guidelines on the exemption procedure for EU approval of automated vehicles (Guidelines). The goal of these Guidelines is to harmonize the practice of member states for the national ad-hoc assessment of automated vehicles and to streamline the mutual recognition of such assessment, as well as to ensure fair competition and transparency. The guidelines focus on automated vehicles that can drive themselves in a limited number of driving situations (Levels 3 and 4 of SAE).
The Guidelines establish that the member state may grant a provisional approval to the vehicle type, valid only in its territory, provided that it informs the Commission and the other member states thereof without delay by means of a file containing the following elements: (a) the reasons why the technologies or concepts in question make the whole vehicle type incompatible with the current requirements; (b) a description of the safety and environmental considerations concerned and the measures taken; (c) a description of the tests, including their results, demonstrating that, by comparison with the requirements from which exemption is sought, at least an equivalent level of safety and environmental protection is ensured. The Commission shall decide whether or not to allow the member state to grant an EC type-approval in respect of that type of vehicle. The Commission decision shall be based on the Guidelines and shall clearly identify the functionality concerned and the basis under which the approval was granted.
Under the Guidelines, the manufacturer shall declare to the type-approval authority the scope of the automated driving mode where and when the automated driving system is designed to operate. This shall include at a minimum: road conditions (motorways/expressways, general roads, number of lanes, existence of lane marks, roads dedicated to automated driving vehicles, etc.); geographical area (urban and mountainous areas, etc.); environmental conditions (weather, night-time limitations, etc.); speed range; other conditions that must be fulfilled for safe operation in the driving mode.
The vehicle shall always inform the driver (or person responsible for operation) or passengers about the operational status of the system in an unambiguous manner. For vehicles designed to operate only with no driver (e.g. driverless shuttles), a communication function shall be provided to send an emergency notification to an operation control centre. Automated vehicles should be equipped with an on-board device that records the operational status of the automated driving system and the status of the driver to determine who was driving in case of an accident. Moreover, the vehicle shall be designed to protect the vehicle against automated vehicle hacking using state of the art techniques and must comply with EU data protection legislation.
The TCMV endorsed these Guidelines, therefore, EU countries are expected to follow them. The Guidelines will be revised after a year to take technical progress into account.
Examples of the member states’ legal frameworks
At the national level, there is a degree of scope for guaranteeing alternative national requirements and permitting exceptions for test operations. Different countries have introduced measures to ease tests of autonomous vehicles on their roads or have clarified the regulatory context to allow for tests, e.g. some countries grant authorization on a case-by-case basis, others are focused more on modifying national laws to facilitate vehicle testing in their territory. However, in the EU there is no coordination between the legislation produced by different governments.
In Sweden, the Vienna Convention of 1968 and the Swedish Road Traffic Ordinance (Ordinance) coexist. At the moment, the Ordinance considers the presence of a driver inside the vehicle, capable of intervening at all times, to be compulsory, as someone has to be legally responsible at all times. Nevertheless, Swedish legislation does not categorically forbid the utilization of advanced driving systems to support the driver, but points out some limitations. Due to the latter, automotive manufacturers will have to demonstrate that their automated systems will not affect basic driving tasks and allow the driver to always maintain control over the vehicle. According to the Ordinance, local authorities and municipalities are both authorized to issue special traffic laws and define regulations independently from national directives. In any case, special authorization is only granted for situations that guarantee road safety at all times.
In France, to support and boost the development of automated driving, the French Ministerial Council introduced a new legislative framework called “Pact” in 2018, which allows the expansion of technical testing and test driving all around the country from 2019. In 2020, it is expected to establish a suitable legislative regulation that would allow the use of autonomous public transport and delivery services under supervision and the circulation of 3rd level autonomous cars. The less developed 3rd level vehicles do the monitoring of driving situations for the driver but still need their assistance. 4th level vehicles are expected to be seen on the roads by 2022.
In Germany, the Autonomous Vehicle Bill was enacted in June 2017, modifying the existing Road Traffic Act defining the requirements for highly and fully automated vehicles, while also addressing the rights of the driver. The bill defines that fully autonomous vehicle must comply with traffic regulations, recognize when the driver needs to resume control, and inform him or her with sufficient lead time as well as at any time permitting the driver to manually override or deactivate the automated driving mode.
The legislation requires that a black box record the journey underway, logging whether the human driver or the car’s self-piloting system was in charge at all moments of the ride. The driver will bear responsibility for accidents that take place under their watch under the legislation, but if the self-driving system is in charge and a system failure is to blame, the manufacturer will be responsible. Germany also aims to expand autonomous vehicle testing on the autobahn beyond the A9 highway in Bavaria, where it is experimenting with vehicle-to-vehicle communication via 5G mobile networks.
Belgian legislation allows prototypes to be tested on roads under the responsibility of car manufacturers, subject to permissions from regional authorities (as owners of the infrastructure) and the federal administration, which has to approve the technology installed on the vehicle. Since Belgium ratified the Vienna Convention of 1968, Belgian law still required that all vehicles must have a driver. This hurdle was overcome by the Royal Decree of 18 March 2018, amending the Belgian Highway Code, such as to allow the Belgian Federal Minister of Mobility to deviate from all provisions of the Belgian Highway Code in the framework of tests with automated vehicles. Such deviation from the current applicable law is subject to conditions and must be granted only for a limited period of time.
Consequently, as of May 1, 2018, car manufacturers and technology companies operating in the autonomous vehicles market are allowed to carry out pilot tests on public highways without a driver, under the provision that an operator should be monitoring the car’s trajectory remotely from a control room. Thus, for fully autonomous (without a driver) vehicles to be able to travel on Belgian roads, modifications to the Traffic Code will be required.
- Check out our Global Guide to Autonomous Vehicles 2020.
- Track key requirements for testing and deployment of driverless cars globally with Dentons’ Global Autonomous Vehicles Index.