Germany calls for black boxes in driverless cars

Posted on 19 Jul 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

Lawmakers in Germany are pushing for new legislation to help deal with driverless car accidents.

According to reporting by Reuters, new rules are being drafted which call for all driverless cars driven within the country to be fitted with devices similar to the ‘black boxes’ found in aircraft.

These black boxes will record all of the data needed to determine guilt and responsibility in the event of an accident.

The devices also will be able to log when a driver is driving autonomously and when they have taken the wheel for manual driving.

A further proposal from Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, will force the driver of a car to always be at the wheel, able to take over the vehicle should an autonomous or ‘autopilot’ system make a mistake.

Reportedly, this proposal, which is currently in a draft stage, will be voted on in the coming few months by the German Parliament.

Should the laws come into effect, they could have a big impact on autonomous vehicles globally, given that outsized role Germany plays in the automobile industry.

Already, several major German carmakers, including VW and BMW, are working to bring autonomous, self-driving cars to the market.

Tesla trouble with driverless cars

The news about these proposed laws comes at a time of considerable controversy for companies marketing autonomous vehicles.

In May, a Tesla Model S vehicle was involved in a fatal crash while in ‘Autopilot’ mode, something which was determined to have occurred due to a software fault. However, Tesla does not market Autopilot as a driver replacement, meaning that the driver’s negligence also played a role in the crash.

Nevertheless, this did not stop federal investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from requesting data from the crash, as well as information about customer complaints related to Tesla’s Autopilot system.

Whatever conclusion the NHTSA comes to on the crash, it highlights the fact that the legal issues related to autonomous vehicles are no longer a future problem, but rather one for the present.

For many countries, the first few crashes involving these systems will create binding legal precedents, and for this reason, data provided from ‘black boxes’ would be indispensable.