The Role of Regulation in automated Driving

Airplans[1] got autopilots just a decade after the Wright brothers. These days, your breakfast cereal was probably gathered by a driverless harvester. Sailboats have auto-tillers. Yet one deceptively modest dream has rarely ventured beyond the pages of science fiction since our grandparent’s youth: the self-driving family car. Unlike Mars rovers or sailboats, cars need to navigate the complex world of city streets, passing inches away from fragile, litigious human beings. This article explores the legislative bases and success factors for the approval of highly automated vehicles on public roads.

Identifying the stakeholders in approval of highly automated vehicles

The stakeholders[2] to be taken in account in vehicle and road automation can be divided into four big categories: technology providers (e.g.: OEM´s, GNS suppliers, research and consulting), service providers (highway operators, assurance companies), decision makers (e.g.: local and national authorities, certification bodies) and final consumers (e.g.: drivers associations).

Figure1[3]. Illustration of stakeholder groups and their role in vehicle automation 3.2.1. Regulatory needs and solutions for deployment of vehicle and road Automation.

The role of the stakeholders in the rectangle differs from country to country. Countries with strong technology providers – both in IT and automotive – seem to manage well in convincing decision makers to approve highly automated vehicles on public roads. Examples are countries like Japan, Sweden, Germany and states like California.

A group of countries that follow, lack strong national vehicle manufacture but have a strong academic and TIER1 society in transport and robotics. Examples are the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. All countries are supported by a strong national ambition to become a test bed for highly automated vehicles. Also France[4] has this ambition.

Countries with a strong ambition on the implantation of highly automated vehicles and with a focus on national government powers, need to regulate highly automated vehicles on a national level. For instance the ministry of Transport must come to an agreement with the ministry of Justice and Homeland on matters of liability and privacy. Countries that decentralized powers to states or provinces or even municipalities have powers to (often within certain limits by the government) to regulate its own affairs. In the Netherlands an approval process[5] was constructed with the help many national experts like TNO, the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), the ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the road agency (RWS) and TU Delft. The method consist of a gradually admittance with emphasis on risk analysis. The RDW approves the vehicles with automatic functions on a case-by-case basis with the following steps: Intake, Desk research. Testing on a closed proving ground, Limited admittance with an exemption.

Current international legislation

In order to protect society from unsafe and less environmental friendly motor vehicles, vehicle registration authorities apply vehicle approval standard. Vehicle manufacturers have to proof that their vehicle are in compliance with standards. For automated vehicles , SAE level 2 and higher, these standards are being developed. The main contributors are the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29)[6] . This a worldwide regulatory forum within the institutional framework of the UNECE Inland Transport Committee. In 1988, the Working Party on Road Traffic Safety (WP.1) , an intergovernmental body, was established. Its primary function is to serve as guardian of the United Nations legal instruments aimed at harmonizing traffic rules. To a large extend these rules are laid down in the Vienna convention . According to the Vienna convention for example, the driver should at any time be able to intervene directly to all the relevant circumstances that may arise. The Convention contains no specific provision requiring the driver to keep his hands on the wheel, but driving without hands on the steering wheel can cause a conflict with more general standards of art. 7 paragraph 1. Furthermore, specific concepts of self driving cars can conflict with other provisions of the Treaty. For example, art. 8 paragraph 1, requires a driver in the vehicle. This is relevant for the full automation concepts . Please note that this part of Article 8 is not yet up for amendment – the discussions on how to amend it (if at all) will start in March 2015 in WP1. For the use case Commercial Vehicle Road Train (CVTR) Art. 13.5 (keep sufficient distance) is relevant.

Two models: Vehicle approval authorities versus limited self certification

There are roughly two models of vehicle approval in the world. One that is based on the so called framework directive EU 2007/46[7] and the US equivalent[8] from the Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS)) . In Europe the vehicle approval authority decides to a large extend if the vehicles complies with the applicable legislation. In the US the responsibility is given more in the hands of the vehicle manufacturer. Like in Europe the manufacturer can be held responsible in case a non compliance but the claims in the US can be much higher. Both in the US and Europe it is extremely difficult for a manufacturer to proof that a highly automated vehicle is at least as safe as a normal vehicles. In Europe the so called article 20[9] from the 2007/46/EU, is applied to innovation in mass produced vehicles. In article 20, manufactures must proof among others, that the innovation is a least as safe as the regular function. Given the range of article 20, this is not a solution for the approval of for highly automated vehicles. This also applies to a certain extend to the so called comfort systems. Traffic jam assist is an example. Vehicle manufactures can add these comfort systems that are not part of the framework directive. They are not tested by the approval authority.

According to the interpretation of Bryant Walker Smith[10] "Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in The United States", because no legislation prohibits is. However several started regulating highly automated vehicles..

Vehicle manufactures have a reputation to keep up. They will be very cautious with the introduction of highly automated vehicles. Therefor alternatives to traditional regulation can be considered.

Alternatives to traditional Regulation

As mentioned in the end of the previous chapter, vehicle manufactures have a reputation to keep up and will act very cautious with the introduction of highly automated vehicles. The OECD[11] carried out a study on alternatives to traditional regulation which might also be applicable for highly automated vehicles. The instruments might facilitate the desire of many countries to reduce red tape.

The challenge for government is to ensure that the regulations and instruments it uses to achieve the public’s objectives are both effective and efficient: effective in the sense that they resolve the problem they were introduced to address; and efficient in the sense that they minimize both the direct compliance costs borne by those subject to the regulation, and other, often more indirect, costs which may be imposed on the public.

The alternatives to traditional regulation[12] fall into three main categories: market-based instruments, self-regulation and co-regulation approaches, and information and education schemes.

Market-based instruments reflect decisions made by citizens and businesses in response to the incentives they face for instance the comfort of safe and automated driving. The decisions taken will reflect the preferences of the individuals involved. How ever improved traffic trough put is only achieved when a certain percentage of vehicles use the some communication platform. Markted based solution can contribute to traditional legislation, but are by means a silver bullet. The same applies for information and education schemes. These measures seem to be required for the smooth introduction of highly automated vehicles on public roads, but it does not solve regulatory challenges on the subject of for instance interoperability.

Self-regulation and co-regulation of the vehicle industry could contribute to reducing red tape. Voluntarily developing rules or codes of conduct that regulate interoperability between vehicles or guide the behavior in relation to human machine interfaces seem realistic. In fact the automotive industry is already cooperating with decision maker (figure 1) to come up with standards. When used in the right circumstances these instruments can offer significant advantages over traditional command and control regulation, including: greater flexibility and adaptability; potentially lower compliance and administrative costs; an ability to address industry-specific and consumer issues directly; and quick and low-cost complaints handling and dispute resolution mechanisms.


  1.   Based on the online article of Marc Weber. http:/
  2.   From the report "Regulatory needs and solutions for deployment of Vehicle and Road Automation (Draft1)" Maxime Flament
  3.   Figure 4 From the report "Regulatory needs and solutions for deployment of Vehicle and Road Automation (Draft1)" Maxime Flament
  10.   Bryant Walker Smith (1 November 2012). "Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in the United States". The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford Law School.United
  12.   ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITIONAL REGULATION, a report from Mr. Glen Hepburn, OECD Regulatory Policy Division.

Author of the article

Arjan van Vliet, Senior Advisor Strategy
Department of Road Transport (RDW), Europaweg 205, 2711 ER, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands