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UN prepares the ground for automated driving

Lawmakers are setting the legal framework for driverless cars. (Photo: Rinspeed)

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Angelo Rychel
Angelo Rychel
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Amendments to an international treaty create more legal certainty for carmakers – yet open questions remain.

A recent amendment to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic is paving the way for automated driving. The transfer of driving tasks to the vehicle will be authorized on the roads in the 73 international countries that have ratified the convention. In a press release, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) called this a “major regulatory milestone towards the deployment of automated vehicle technologies.”

The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, concluded in 1968, called for a driver to be in control of the vehicle at all times. With Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) being increasingly installed into vehicles and partially automated cars already being on the market, a state of legal uncertainty for car manufacturers has resulted in recent years. “This amendment establishes a basis for using driver assistance systems to master driving a vehicle,” explains Andree Hohm, Head of Lighthouse Program Automated Driving at German supplier Continental.

The new paragraph allows for automated driving technologies provided that they comply with UN rules. “It is important that the driver can overrule or switch off those systems at any time,” says Hohm. It will now be up to the individual states to cast this amendment into national laws. “Experience shows that this is a rather lengthy process,” says Hohm. The states that have ratified the treaty include most EU states, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and Turkey – although notable absentees include the United States or China.

Although an “important interim step”, as Hohm puts it, the amendment does not yet allow for fully automated driving, let alone cars driving autonomously without a driver being present. “And the rules do not clarify whether the driver can engage in sideline activities during the ride.” Moreover, Hohm points out that current European regulation for driver assistance systems (ECE R79) only permits fully self-steering systems for speeds of up to 6 miles per hour (10 km/h). “To actually allow for automated steering – meaning without a human driver – this rule will need to be adapted.”

Read the full UNECE press release.

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