Germany wants to put black boxes in its self-driving cars

Mercedes-Benz’s F015 autonomous concept car
Mercedes-Benz’s F015 autonomous concept car
Image: Reuters/Steve Marcus
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Germany’s powerful car companies are already gearing up for what will be a highly competitive self-driving car market in coming years. And the government is wasting no time in drawing up legislation that will give the country’s automakers and drivers a legal framework—and a competitive edge—for the autonomous era.

According to Reuters, the new proposal from transport minister Alexander Dobrindt calls for data-recording boxes to be installed in all cars with autopilot functions.  They would activate when the car is switched to self-driving mode, so it would be easier to tell whether man or machine was at fault in the event of an accident. The boxes would also be able to pinpoint the exact moment when the system requested that the driver take over.

The legislation, expected to be rushed through the approval process this summer, also includes new rules for drivers. They won’t have to pay attention to what’s going on on the road around them, or focus on steering. But they do need to be ready to intervene and take over the driving if there’s an emergency or if the car’s system asks them to—so forget about that nap.

Most countries don’t have any clear legal and regulatory framework around self-driving cars. Germany’s dash to get new road-traffic laws approved as quickly as possible reflects the government’s determination to get its car brands ahead of the competition.

“Self-driving cars will usher in a revolution, just like cars taking over from horse-drawn carriages,” chancellor Angela Merkel said in a recent speech. “Carriage makers never made it into the car business. That means German carmakers have to be ready for change, so that jobs don’t migrate overseas. We all know the name ‘Tesla.’”

The lack of clear legislation has become more of an issue since the first fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S in Florida last May. Investigators are still trying to discover if the autopilot failed to note an oncoming truck reversing into the car’s path.