Self-driving vehicles are no longer a utopian dream. Legislation in the European Union is already defining the framework conditions for type-approval and the use of fully automated trucks and buses in accordance with SAE Level 4. This means that driverless driving will soon be permitted on certain routes on public roads. This puts Europe well ahead of the rest of the world.

Currently, each country has the freedom to authorize test drives for vehicles with autonomous driving functions to SAE Level 4 (see info below) on public roads in accordance with the Vienna Convention and the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (see info below). However, freight and passenger traffic does not end at national borders. Because of this, the EU has developed rules for a harmonized type-approval procedure that will set uniform safety standards across borders and reduce approval barriers.

While laws and type-approval procedures have just been completed in the European Union, some autonomous driving vehicles are already rolling on European roads with special permits. A recent example comes from Sweden: at the end of May 2022, truck manufacturer Scania received approval from the Swedish transport authority, Transportstyrelsen, to expand its route tests for three self-driving trucks. With special permission and safety drivers on board, the fully automated trucks can now use any road on the almost 300-kilometer route between the cities of Södertälje and Jönköping

Germany paves the way: Legislation allows fully automated driverless driving on public roads

In Germany, national legislation has acted early. In 2021 and 2022, the German government became the first country in the world to create the legal framework for fully automated driving with autonomous driving functions for cars and trucks. On July 28, 2022, two pieces of legislation came into effect: the Autonomous Driving Act and the Ordinance Regulating the Operation of Motor Vehicles with Automated and Autonomous Driving Functions and Amending Road Traffic Regulations (AFGBV). These allow autonomous driving functions in fully automated passenger and freight transport vehicles on defined routes. The presence of a safety driver in the vehicle is no longer mandatory.

In the meantime, the last building block has also been adopted, which regulates the technical implementation for fully automated driving and makes regular operation possible. On May 20, 2022, the Bundesrat gave its approval to the AFGBV.

"As a vehicle manufacturer, we welcome the legislative initiatives to promote automated driving as a technical innovation," says Thomas Doering, Vice President Strategy & Business Opportunities at TRATON GROUP. For the first time, international commercial vehicle manufacturers now have a legal basis with precisely defined prerequisites and limits for rapidly advancing the research and development process for commercial vehicles with fully automated driving systems in Germany. This paves the way for test drives and regular operation on the public road network. It also brings the target of initializing small-series production by the year 2030 within reach.

Europe: Legislation on fully automated driving at EU level

Across the European Union, a legal framework for fully automated vehicles with autonomous driving functions was finalized in July 2022 through an adaption of the existing type-approval regulation, which was expanded to include fully automated vehicles. The revised version will create a binding regulatory framework that includes fully automated driving in regular operation.

Picture of Erik Dahlberg, Director Technical Affairs bei Scania EU Affairs
Erik Dahlberg, Director Technical Affairs bei Scania EU Affairs

"The new version of the General Safety Regulation gives commercial vehicle manufacturers planning certainty, which is crucial for the development and Europe-wide approval capability of fully automated vehicles with autonomous driving functions, while still allowing a large degree of design flexibility within this framework," says Erik Dahlberg, Director Technical Affairs at Scania EU Affairs.

The new regulation no longer requires the mandatory use of a safety driver for fully automated Level 4 trucks and buses. However, the use of fully automated vehicles in EU countries will initially be limited to individually approved routes. The first step in fully automated freight transport will therefore focus on solutions in hub-to-hub traffic on highways and the respective access roads.

Commercial vehicle manufacturer TRATON also sees the future focus of Level 4 trucks in the freight transport between large logistics centers close to freeways. In May 2022, the first fully automated truck from TRATON’s subsidiary MAN successfully completed its first journey on public roads in the Autonomous Innovation in Terminal Operations (ANITA) project. "The technological development of autonomous driving functions has progressed so far that we will soon be able to comply with the clearly defined legal framework and start regular driverless operation on public roads," says TRATON strategist Thomas Doering.

Liability and insurance: Who is liable in the event of damage?

In Germany, important liability issues have already been largely clarified by national legislation. Responsibility lies primarily with the owner of the vehicle, even in the case of autonomous driving vehicles that are in use without a driver. The owner's liability insurance covers personal injury and property damage for both conventional vehicles and vehicles with fully automated driving systems. There is also an obligation to take out liability insurance for the technical supervisor. If a traffic violation or accident occurs, the cause and fault of the accident are determined individually.

In other EU countries, such as Sweden, liability is not yet defined by law. And European legislation does not currently make any binding statements on liability issues in fully autonomous vehicles. If a safety driver is on board, he or she is responsible for accidents and traffic violations, while the manufacturer is liable for technical malfunctions and failures of the overall vehicle system.

Image of Thomas Döring, Senior Manager Strategic Projects and Business Development of TRATON GROUP

“The technological development of autonomous driving functions has progressed so far that we will soon be able to comply with the clearly defined legal framework and start regular driverless operation on public roads.”

Thomas Doering, Vice President Strategy & Business Opportunities at TRATON GROUP,

Data protection: Who owns the data, who stores it and who has access?

However, upcoming EU legislation is expected to require manufacturers to collect vehicle and operational data and release it to authorities and operators. To this end, vehicle and data monitoring via monitoring systems will be mandatory, but the scope has not yet been finalized.

In Germany, access to the digital data generated and collected from vehicles with fully automated driving systems is concentrated at the respective technical supervisory authority. This means that data sovereignty lies with the manufacturer or the operator. Only they can view and use the data and - if necessary - give third parties permission to view and use it as well. Any transfer of data is in principle only possible with the consent of the manufacturer or operator. The law on autonomous driving merely stipulates that data on malfunctions in the operating sequence, interventions by the technical supervisor, conflict scenarios, unplannable lane changes or evasive maneuvers must be stored and made available to the responsible authorities or to the Federal Motor Transport Authority on request.

The expert organization DEKRA e.V. takes a critical view of this. "For all connected and, therefore, also fully automated vehicles with autonomous driving functions, it is essential to ensure regulated data access for all sovereign tasks such as accident analysis, vehicle inspection, traffic police and law enforcement," says Walter Niewöhner, who represents DEKRA's interests on international committees. He calls for uniform standards for tamper-proof data storage for all EU-registered vehicles. A neutral institution should perform this in each country in order to be a data trustee.

Together with the European traffic police network Roadpol and the European Association for Accident Research and Analysis EVU, DEKRA now wants to close this gap. They are calling for the inclusion of specifications for data use in the automotive sector in the European Commission's "Data Act" draft. The Data Act lays down basic principles for accessing and using data generated and collected by products.

So, even though driverless driving will soon be legally permitted at EU level, there are still several hurdles to clear before everyday use is achieved. These hurdles include liability, data protection and national coordination between EU countries. Joint legislation is an important milestone here.

  • All current legal regulations worldwide are focused on vehicles that have fully automated driving systems and autonomous driving functions, as defined by the American Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 4. The legislators are referring to a six-level system in which the SAE has defined the various expansion stages of automated and autonomous driving. While SAE levels 0 to 3 describe the state of the art of today's vehicles without and with assistance systems, SAE Level 4 vehicles are fully automated driving systems with autonomous driving functions that require no intervention by a driver and may no longer have pedals or a steering wheel. The highest level, SAE Level 5, an autonomous driving vehicle without any application limits, is still a goal for the future.

  • Since November 8, 1968, the international framework for traffic on public roads has been governed by the "Vienna Convention on Road Traffic". The latest amendment to this went into effect on March 23, 2016. This international treaty obligates contracting parties to harmonize international road traffic regarding traffic and vehicle standards, and to create a uniform legal framework for road traffic and registration law. The overarching principles currently apply to around 85 countries worldwide, including the countries in the European Union and the United Kingdom. Countries that have not joined include the USA, China, Singapore and Japan. The current version of the Vienna Convention, which has been in force since 2016, also includes transnational principles for the approval of assistance systems. Among other things, it stipulates that a driver must be physically present in every vehicle as soon as it is in motion. Due to technological developments toward fully automated Level 4 vehicles with autonomous driving functions for regular road use, an amendment to the Vienna Convention is in preparation and is expected to take effect in July 2022. It is intended to enable the implementation of driverless operation within the framework of national legislation.

  • The AFGBV regulates all requirements for the approval and use of fully automated vehicles across all federal states. These include a uniform testing and approval procedure for granting operating permission; the prerequisites and procedure for approving the defined operating range; the obligations of the persons involved in the operation; and the technical requirements for the construction, condition, and equipment of the vehicle. Among other things, the vehicle must have an accident-avoidance system that allows the driving system to independently assess situations, perform necessary driving maneuvers and put itself in a minimized-risk state in critical situations. External supervision and control centers must be established to monitor driverless vehicle operation. The so-called technical supervision must be staffed by a person who can stop the fully automated vehicle in critical situations and release, correct or prevent certain driving maneuvers. The manufacturer must also prepare a security concept including a data protection impact assessment that complies with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation. In addition, it must demonstrate that the vehicle's electrical and electronic architecture is secured against attacks and that there is a sufficiently secure radio link.