Austria paves the legal way for (partly) autonomous vehicles
Imagine your car would drive you instead of you driving your car. This marvel has become partly a reality, as a law entered into force on 11 March 2019 allowing autonomous driving on Austrian highways. In addition, an amendment to the regulation for autonomous driving (Automatisiertes Fahren Verordnung – AutomatFahrV) by the Ministry of Traffic, Innovation and Technology broadly permits autonomous parking of vehicles.
As the technology rapidly advances, the Austrian legislator finds itself in the rare position of being way ahead of innovation and development in the financial/tech sector. While in other countries, like the USA, autonomous driving has seen huge developments, car manufacturers in European markets are reluctantly struggling with the hardware and software requirements for self-driving vehicles. However, due to increasing deregulating amendments, such as the latest Austrian regulation (Automatisiertes Fahren Verordnung – AutomatFahrV), much effort is being put into research and development. It is therefore only a question of time before Austria's streets are full of self-driving vehicles.
Crucially, the new amendment on autonomous driving is essentially limited to certain streets and driving sequences. It is therefore not considered to be a permit that fully releases the driver from his duties in traffic. The main facets of autonomous driving are:
- An assistant in the car, which can be activated by the driver after entering the highway, can take over control of the car. Steering, lane keeping, acceleration, braking, stopping, distance control, as well as the lateral guidance of the vehicle for lane keeping by means of an automatic steering function will be executed autonomously by the car, while the driver may sit back and enjoy the ride, releasing him from the duty to keep his hands on the steering wheel.
- The system is limited to highways only and must be deactivated at certain points and situations, such as lane change, in front of construction site areas and before reaching the exit of the highway.
- The driver must be able to take over control at any time and override the assistant in critical situations.
- The assistant may be used in cars, buses and trucks.
While carmakers have long built cars with self-parking abilities, the recent amendment has profoundly extended the legal applicability. Thus, self-parking assistants are allowed under the following conditions:
- When activated, the vehicle's system must be able to perform individual or all sequences of the parking (in and out) procedure.
- While activated, the driver shall be relieved of the obligation to take the place of the system and to hold the steering wheel with at least one hand. As long as the system is activated, the driver must be in close proximity to the vehicle and must monitor the parking process.
- The driver must be able to assume control of the vehicle at any time and override the assistant in critical situations.
- The assistant may be used in cars and small trucks (max. 3.5 tons).
Austria has provided a modern legal basis for advanced assistants in traffic that accounts for new technologies. Now it is up to the economic sector and car manufacturers to catch up with the legal developments and to introduce vehicles featuring these assistants and systems.
Author: Johannes Stalzer