Autonomous driving is one of the trickiest issues for automakers to face at the moment. Not only are there massive technological hurdles, there are even larger regulatory hurdles. The latter of which are especially difficult, as government regulations vary from country to country. Which makes trying to not only develop but also test autonomous technology increasingly difficult. While automakers like Audi are getting closer, and governments like Germany are developing forward thinking laws and regulations, Audi’s top lawyer wants to make it perfectly clear that no one will be sleeping behind the wheel anytime soon.
“In Europe, we can safely say that we will see functions like highway pilots for long distances by 2030. However, I don’t really think that we will be able to sleep while driving into the weekends.” said Uta Klawitter, head of Audi’s legal counsel.
Klawitter claims that laws for Level 4 autonomy, which can allow fully hands-off driving under certain circumstances, could be introduced as early as 2024. However, that will mostly be for inner-city public transport.
“People in the country will still mostly drive their own cars, however, like in the city, autonomously driven people movers will expand mobility solutions and thereby offer better access to infrastructure, like shopping opportunities, for example.”
There are some brands, as well as some electric vehicle enthusiasts, that feel Klawitter is wrong. Specifically, Tesla and its fans. Because Tesla claims its Autopilot system — which is only a Level 2+ system that can operate on its own under a very small set of parameters — is close to full automation, there are fans that feel hesitance from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz is weakness. However, Klawitter understands the hurdles in the way of full automation.
“The biggest challenge will definitely be the technology itself. It has to enable a highly automated driving function that is convincingly smooth and, above all, safe. Only then – and this is the second challenge – will it gain social acceptance and the corresponding trust. For me, the third challenge is also clear: we need to harmonize the regulations at the international, or at least the European level. Otherwise, the area where vehicles can be used across national borders will be limited and the technical differences will be extremely complex due to the different national vehicular traffic law requirements.”
At the moment, Germany is one of the most forward thinking countries in the world, in terms of automated driving regulations. because of its Level 4 laws introduced last year, Germany is ahead of the curve but there’s still a long way to go.
“The law on level 4 allows vehicles to be operated by means of an automated driving function, without need of a human driver, under strict conditions. Right now, it is only possible in public traffic within previously approved areas of operation. The focus here is currently still on the people mover and logistics transportation. In the next step, this will have to happen for ownership vehicles as well.”
Will that next step occur in 2030? “Yes, I believe so. But the path to get there, even just on the legal side, will be covered cautiously and incrementally in Germany. It will be evolutionary, not revolutionary like in the US or China. That can also be an advantage, because the evolutionary track can build trust in the quality of the function, which our customers also expect from us.” said Klawitter.