German Government to adopt ethical rules for automated driving

By Dr Alexander Duisberg, Dr Benedikt Vogel LL M


The German Federal Government takes self-driving cars on German roads a step further: It has adopted an action plan on 23 August 2017 to implement ethical rules for automated driving systems.

The Government’s action plan is based on the recent report as of June 2017 published by the Ethics Committee of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure for Automated and Connected Driving. The Committee consists of an interdisciplinary body of highly reputed legal scholars, scientists, industry and church representatives and other stakeholders, led by the former judge of the Federal Constitutional Court, Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio (see report in German here). The Committee’s report provided the world’s first ethical guidelines on how to programme automated driving systems (“Guidelines”), particularly with regard to safety, liability and data protection issues (see our previous update here).

Summarising the key results of the Committee, the Government is undertaking various measures to implement and create clear ethical rules for driving systems, in particular:

  • German traffic laws shall be aligned to and updated in accordance with the technological advances of automated systems, based on the recent legislative amendments of traffics laws for the implementation of highly and fully automated driving functions.
  • Based on the Guidelines and in-line with the legal requirements set out in the GDPR, the Government shall identify and implement measures to balance data processing that is necessary for the safety, innovation and fair competition as well as the right of informational self-determination (including the data subjects that are in the vehicle environment). In principle, the decision of sharing and using vehicle data shall lie with the driver.
  • Automated and connected systems, in particular learning and self-learning systems, shall not result in the total surveillance of road users. The systems shall meet high security standards of all functions that are relevant to the vehicle control system, including the protection against manipulation. A catalogue shall be developed and handed over to a neutral body that sets out general requirements for different scenarios.
  • Based on the Guidelines, the Government shall continue to work on the international standardisation of automated and connected systems in order to facilitate and promote secure, cross-border usage of the technology.
  • The Government shall promote the development of an appropriate legal framework for programming onboard computers. The framework shall determine the principles for inevitable accident situations as outlined in the Guidelines.

The German Federal Government is determined to pave the way for automated and connected cars in Germany and to take a leading role in shaping the framework of the future. The work of the Ethics Committee is an integral part of these efforts.