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Pairing politics with industry

Matthias Wissmann heads the German Association of the Automotive Industry (Photo: VDA)

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Matthias Wissmann
Matthias Wissmann

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A secure legal framework for automated driving and investments in the digital infrastructure: the German auto industry makes clear demands of the government. A contribution by Matthias Wissmann.

Matthias Wissmann is the president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). In his guest contribution he argues that a close alliance between national and international politics is necessary.

Cars are driving quietly and emission-free through the city; none are driving too fast or too slow. Traffic jams never arise at all. No vehicle can jump a red light or accidentally veer out of lane. Travel times are predictable even for long distances; searching for parking spaces - a thing of the past. While this scenario might seem very futuristic to some people, the question is no longer if but when it will become a reality. However, the changes are going to be stepwise, rather than abrupt. The German automotive industry has been working on solutions for various advanced driver assistance systems for years – many of them are already in use. Those systems will relieve the driver and will be aligned with the phases of partly and highly automated driving up to fully automated driving. It will be a political, economic and societal challenge to make the day-to-day mobility of the future both safe and efficient.

Connected and automated driving saves time, resources and costs

The British research institute Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has calculated that every car driver in Germany spends, on average, 118 hours per year either in traffic jams or detouring to avoid them. With the help of connected driving, 20 percent of traffic congestion in Germany could be avoided.  This would result in annual savings of 233 million liters of fuel, 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide and total costs of 5.2 billion Euros. Besides the saved time, resources and costs, connectivity and automation also increase road users’ safety. By taking over single functions like the longitudinal or lateral control of the car – for instance traffic jam assistant or highway chauffeur – the system will already reduce the risk that drivers frequently face. Accidents caused by distraction, overload or indeed complacency, can be largely prevented. We are moving ever closer to the vision of accident-free driving. 

The vehicle must take over tasks that only the car driver is allowed to perform today

To further progress in connected and automated driving, the automotive industry is reliant on a legally secure framework – in a European and global context. Therefore a close alliance between national and international politics is necessary. On the one hand, the infrastructure needs to be adjusted and connectivity must be extended. Questions such as “What language do traffic lights of the future speak so that all vehicles are able to understand them?” have to be answered. On the other hand, the foundation should be laid for vehicles to take over tasks that, today, only the car driver is allowed to perform. The Vienna Convention from 1968, which states that all drivers must have control over their car at any time, is still valid to this day at an international level. These regulations need to be adapted. In March 2014, the respective article was complemented at the session of the UNECE, The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Working Party on Road Traffic Safety. The German traffic regulations need to be reformed as well. Currently, ancillary operations during the ride are classified as misdemeanors. Thus, the relevant changes for automated driving have to be implemented on the UN level as well as in national legislation. The German automotive industry advocates internationally harmonized requirements for vehicle operators. It does not make sense to establish differing regulations within Europe. The legal framework has to be synchronized with the progressing technological development to facilitate innovations.

Investments in infrastructure are a pressing need

Germany has used its traffic infrastructure intensively over many years, but sadly has invested little in its preservation and development. Everyone is feeling the effects of this today. For instance, the sensors and cameras of an automated car at least need proper lane markings to detect the road. Furthermore, in the future, when vehicles possess connectivity, the infrastructure must to be able to communicate digitally with them. The digital world and traffic infrastructure are therefore no longer separate fields. State investments in this area should be increased significantly. Germany faces the challenge of turning a deficit into a lead. 

We, as the automotive industry, have a vested interest in the German government quickly implementing the announced investments in the digital infrastructure. Compared to some other countries, Germany is still “digitally undersupplied”. Efficient broadband for instance needs to be both a given and exhaustive in its coverage. 

The digital world and traffic infrastructure are no longer separate fields.

Alexander Dobrindt, Federal Minister of Transport, introduced his strategy for automated and connected driving at the IAA. He has set the right priorities and identified the essential fields of action. What is crucial now is for the legal frameworks to actually be developed. The pilot project on a section of the A9 Autobahn demonstrates the fact that the German government has set this topic high on its agenda. On this test route, communication between one vehicle and another vehicle, as well as communication between vehicles and infrastructure or other sources, can be tested in reality. Automated driving functions are tested for their suitability for everyday use. This is a first step – and an important one, but further action must be taken.

Our manufacturers and suppliers want to be at the top of connected and automated driving. In order to reach this goal, they will invest 16 to 18 billion Euros in research and development in the area over the next three to four years. The field of future digitalization is one with high levels of international competition. This is why politics and industry should lead the way by coming together and being decisive in order to strengthen Germany’s reputation as a business and scientific location.

Download the full overview from the VDA here, including the relevant global trends, technologies for driverless vehicles, development steps, the commercial vehicle aspect, data protection as well as legal requirements, and more for automated driving.

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