Autonomous Driving: The Legal Framework – Challenges and Opportunities


There’s no doubt that autonomous cars will soon take to the roads since the market for connected car technologies is growing at an increasing pace. Already, IT companies are developing their own prototypes and start-ups are popping up from nowhere with disruptive technologies. Yet at the same time the legal framework is nowhere near finished. We talked with Dr Robert Plank from German TÜV NORD Mobilität GmbH & Co. KG about the burdens, but also the vantages of autonomous driving.

1. Dr. Plank, legal questions have been considered to be among the biggest challenges on the way to automated driving throughout recent surveys. Do you agree with this view? 

YES, besides the technical challenges regarding big data processing and sensor accuracy, we do not have a clear answer yet how responsibilities will be shared between driver and vehicle and also, which legal responsibilities will taken over by vehicle designers. This important question already arises with the shift from level 2 to level 3 within AD functions and not only when it comes to autonomous driving.

2. Where could legislation offer vantages to facilitate the implementation of automated driving?

Once we will have standards for regulation, we will have an open and common platform to combine development resources globally. With clearly defined criteria regarding the intended AD-functions, the technical challenges in front of us will be mastered by a common approach of automotive industry, communication industry, big data specialists and Technical Services. This would immediately speed up the whole development process. The PPP projects like AdaptIVe or PEGASUS show us how to generate test scenarios and standards and from there, how to deviate legislative rules within the ECE framework for type approval.

3.Liability matters and the challenges insurances will face are among the most discussed questions when it comes to legislation. How do you think, legislation will find an answer on these two questions?

In Germany, a solution for the liability issue is already foreseeable: the so called ‘vehicle owner liability’ will stay in place and cover all damages of 3rd parties in the first step. In case an AD function failure and not a misuse or handling failure by the driver is the root cause, the vehicle producer has to prove whether there was no component failure and whether all ‘predictable’ scenarios had been covered within his AD-System. As there is an endless amount of scenarios conceivable, the definition of ‘predictable’ is hard to define. That means that there is still a probability that a ‘never seen before’ scenario will happen. The solution for this legal case and the definition of ‘predictable’ for automated vehicles is still under consideration by law specialists. As well, there is the question , whether the driver is acting with gross negligence, in case he uses the AD function in situations, which are outside the standard using range of the system.

4. What, in your opinion, is the most important question that has to be answered by legislation before the implementation of automated driving?

Especially the handing-over scenarios between driver and vehicle via HMI within automated driving have to be defined. The clear criteria, i.e. time span, allowed activities during driving etc. and their verification are not standardized yet. Also, the connection between data security and road safety needs extra consideration, as outside hacker attacks must not influence the driving behavior. We need security standards for V2V and V2X communication, as well. Data security shall be proved by independent Technical Services to achieve highest levels of safety for all traffic participants.

5. There will be a long period of time, when partly automated, fully automated and even non-automated cars will coexist. How would you rate the risk that car accidents will be frequently reduced to human failure, if the evidence is not clear?

Functions like ABS, ESP, AEB and ACC have proven that they are reducing car accidents significantly. Automated driving functions will evidently reduce the amount of accidents further, but there will still be accidents and also new accident types that come with automated driving. Due to the high technical standard of our cars in Western Europe, the human failure rate already amounts to 80 %. So I personally assume that this rate will rise for the remaining fewer accidents due to misuse, not using of AD functions or vehicles without AD. We should also consider a technical solution for elder vehicles: to refit them with a remote detective device so that AD vehicles are able to recognize these elder vehicles in traffic. As automatic vehicles will have a data recorder – the so called black box – the risk of wrong accusation will be rather low.

6. What kind of insurances will we all – from drivers to car manufacturers and software providers – need in the future?

As a driver in Germany I can stay with my vehicle owner coverage. The OEMs have to discuss with the insurance industry how a compensation between new, AD linked risks and a lower accident rate overall might look like. In total, the effort for insurance companies should be reduced as the accident rate is going to shrink.

7. How will this new technology change the work of TÜV NORD, for example?

With AD TÜV NORD gets the chance to step into new activity fields like Car-IT and Car-Electronics, which leads to the slogan ‘no road safety without vehicle security’. Certifying functional safety and the functional safety of intended functions and the security of C2X-communication will influence the future type approval process dramatically. But not only the phase until SOP will be affected, the mandatory PTI will not look the same as today, as the driving assistance functions and communication devices have to become part of a regular inspection to ensure a proper function on the road. Precondition for a high-quality PTI is a nonrestricted access to the vehicles’ electronic systems, what we would call “open telematic platform”.

This interview was conducted with Dr Robert Plank, TÜV NORD Mobilität GmbH & Co. KG, Germany and Chairman of the ADFD Symposium “Automated Driving, Future Mobility and Digtalization”.