Germany First to Pass AV Regulations

Article By : Egil Juliussen

Germany became the first country to pass autonomous vehicle (AV) regulations.

Autonomous vehicles (AV) regulation is sorely needed, and no country had passed such regulation—until now.

Germany became the first country to pass AV regulations on May 28. The rules remain a work in process, and it looks like it will only allow commercial deployment of some L4 AV use cases.

AV regulation timeline

Germany issued its draft on autonomous driving in early February of this year. That’s important because Germany’s regulation will provide a measure of legal certainty for the use of AVs. It will also give confidence to companies investing in AV technology that those bets will lead to future deployment opportunities. Germany expects some AV use cases to start operating in 2022.

The draft bill was approved by the German cabinet on February 10 and forwarded to Germany’s upper and lower chambers—Bundestag and Bundesrat, or federal council. The Bundestag’s Committee for Transport and Digital Infrastructure held public hearings in early May. The committee approved a bill subject to amendments on May 19. This set the stage for approval by the Bundestag on May 20 and Bundesrat this past May 28.

However, the German AV law is limited and there are more regulation details to be worked out. It is nevertheless an important milestone that will likely to accelerate AV regulation in other countries and regions.

AVs are a competitive industry—even for regulation.

The chart below draws from the publication Urban Transport Magazine:

(Click on image to enlarge.)
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Overall, this represents a legal framework for deployments and operation of only the simplest AV use cases considered Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Personal AVs are not currently included in the regulation. This is only a first step, and more regulation is needed to allow deployment of other important AV use cases.

Teleoperation is included in the German AV rules under the category Technical Supervision (Technische Aufsicht in German). Teleoperation is needed to meet current rules requiring a human operator.

Additional details on AV teleoperation are here.

ODD examples

The operational design domains (ODD) listed in the table above is focused on MaaS use cases since they have less complexity than robotaxis and personal AVs. There are at least seven overlapping AV use cases that can be deployed in 2022. Most are variations of fixed-route AV operation. First- and last-mile passenger and goods transport are included since they have considerable commercial potential.

Demand-response service at off-peak times is another interesting use case. It looks like a flexible-route AV service. It could perhaps be expanded to off-peak robotaxi service and, in the future, possible full robotaxi services.

AV regulation

The German AV law includes a variety of issues as listed in the above table. It covers mostly operational topics incorporated into the regulation. The German Federal Motor Transport Authority will oversee procedures for granting AV operating licences. Regulations are also included relating to the obligations of AV operators, as well as data processing steps during AV operations.

Type approval of all vehicles sold in Europe is required. If future AV functions are added to existing vehicles, then a new type approval is required. Regulation of such AV additions are called dormant functions. The rules also create uniform AV testing to verify required functionality.

A key aspect of the law are technical requirements for the manufacture, condition and equipping of AVs. Details of those technical regulations will come later from the Federal Transport Authority.

Germany is leading the way for AV regulation, but AV deployment is another story. There is currently little AV testing in Germany, except for fixed-route AVs—a good fit in a region focused on fixed-route AV use cases. Fixed route AVs have great long-term potential in Germany and Europe, but must compete with excellent mass transit systems.

Many of the mass transit operators are eager to test, learn and deploy fixed-route AVs—initially to augment bus routes for better service and cost savings. Fixed-route use cases will also create innovative services that will be used to lower emissions from BEV-based AV usage.

While Germany’s actions represent only a first step in AV regulation; many others that are not addressed. This good first step will hopefully kickstart the EU and other European countries to tackle AV rules. The German AV regulation is expected to have significant impact on European and global AV rules.

Germany remains far behind the U.S. and China in deploying AV use cases. Will the new AV regulations accelerate testing and deployment in Germany? Yes, I think so, but primarily in fixed route AV and similar deployments. That would also benefit two French companies—Navya and EasyMile.

As AV regulation is expanded to robotaxi and autonomous trucks, much AV activity will come from overseas companies. VW is the most likely auto OEM to deploy AVs in Germany, probably using Argo.ai technology. Mercedes-Benz is meanwhile working with Nvidia to develop AVs, but timing is unclear. BMW is active in AV testing, but has revealed little.

Mobileye has already started testing in Germany, and is likely to accelerate its AV activities in Germany with regulations in place.

It is also likely that U.S. companies will increases their AV activities in Germany. Ford, Waymo, GM and Aurora are potential entrants in the German AV sweepstakes. Chinese companies are also likely to enter the German and European markets as AV regulation expands to cover robotaxis and autonomous trucks.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

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