At the cabinet meeting on February 23, 2022, the new federal government adopted the ordinance presented by the responsible federal minister for digital affairs and transport, Dr. Volker Wissing, to regulate the operation of motor vehicles with automated and autonomous driving functions and to amend road traffic regulations, which completes the national legal framework for autonomous driving.
Germany thus remains in the fast lane with regard to the mobility of the future, as Germany intends to be the world leader in autonomous driving. Back in July of last year, the world’s first law on automated driving (amendment to the Road Traffic Act) laid the foundation for autonomous motor vehicles (Level 4) to be able to drive in regular operation in defined operating areas on public roads throughout Germany. The ordinance that has now – in early 2022 – been passed is intended to supplement and concretize this law.
Already as early as in the year of 2017, the Act on Automated Driving (Eighth Act amending the Road Traffic Act) entered already into force. The key elements of this Act were the changed rights and duties of drivers during an automated driving phase. This meant that automated systems (level 3) were allowed to assume the driving task if certain conditions are met (although no type approvals at this stage were granted to any car manufacturer). Now, in 2022 hopes at many leading car manufacturers are to roll-out level 3 systems early this summer in Germany, followed by larger parts of the European Union and some or all parts of the US, and that Level 4 development continues under such better regulatory conditions.
The core of the 2022 legal ordinance are technical regulations and the regulation of the procedure for the admission of motor vehicles with autonomous driving functions to road traffic. The main provisions are:
- the examination and procedure for granting an operating license for motor vehicles with autonomous driving functions;
- the conditions and the detailed procedure for the approval of the defined operating area for the circulation of a concrete motor vehicle with autonomous driving function on public roads;
- supplementary regulations on the registration of the motor vehicle & detailed regulations on the obligations of the parties involved;
- New trial regulations & misdemeanor offenses;
- In the Annex detailed the technical requirements for the construction, condition, equipment for motor vehicles with autonomous driving functions.
In order to enable the regular operation of autonomous vehicles in public road traffic in defined operating areas, singular technical exemptions of the respective federal state should no longer be required. For this reason, the above-mentioned amendment to the Road Traffic Act (StVG – Strassenverkehrsgesetz) last summer already specified a generally applicable three-stage procedure, which is now regulated in detail as follows in the newly adopted legal ordinance:
- The first step is to apply for an operating permit for motor vehicles with autonomous driving functions from the Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrtbundesamt).
- The next step is to apply for approval of one or more vehicles of the same type for a defined operating range from the authority responsible in the respective federal state. For this purpose, the operating area must be described, i.e. the roads on which the vehicle will later move. Approval is granted in agreement with the local authority concerned.
Finally, the actual road registration of the motor vehicle with autonomous driving function takes place by assigning an official license plate and issuing the vehicle documents. In summary, this requires the existence of the two approvals of the previous stages (= operating permit and approval of a defined operating range).Also, for the first time, not only the specific obligations of manufacturers, but also of vehicle owners and drivers are clearly stated in the regulation. Owners, in turn, must regularly check the safety of the driving functions and carry out a departure check before every journey. Among other things, the braking, steering and lighting systems must be checked, as well as the chassis and electronically controlled vehicle systems. Every 90 days, the owner must have “suitable persons,” i.e., mechanics or engineers, perform an overall inspection according to the specifications in the owner’s manual, the ordinance states. Owners must also demonstrate that the autonomous driving function can be disabled, according to the regulation.
The regulation is also intended to address data privacy concerns raised by expert bodies when the law on autonomous driving was passed in the summer of 2021. The transmission of data required for autonomous driving must be encrypted in accordance with the latest state of the art and according to the requirements of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The regulation contains, for example, a list of data types that may be stored in non-volatile form, including vehicle identification number, position data, system monitoring data, speed and data exchanged with external bodies. The requirements in EU Regulation 2016/679 on the protection of personal data and the free movement of such data (GDPR) must be complied with.
Politicians and interest groups are confident that the new regulation will complete the legal framework and that autonomous vehicles will soon be participating in regular road traffic in Germany.
“The fact that autonomous vehicles will be able to participate in normal road traffic in our country in the future is unique worldwide and was an enormous feat. But it is precisely with this detailed experience in the development of the legal framework and its implementation that we can make a significant contribution to further work at the international level,” comments the new Minister of Transport, Dr. Volker Wissing.
The ordinance now requires the approval of the Bundesrat (counterpart to the German parliament, i.e. the legislative body that represents the sixteen federal states in Germany) to enter into force. Approval is expected to be passed soon.
 More information (only available in German): https://www.bmvi.de/SharedDocs/DE/Pressemitteilungen/2022/008-wissing-verordnung-zum-autonomen-fahren.html