Insights

Germany’s Autonomous Driving Law – Parking as a Practical Touchstone

Read this article in German.

Germany’s Autonomous Driving Law – Parking as a Practical Touchstone

“We want to create a legal framework for autonomous driving which ensures data protection and data security as well as the highest level of safety.”

This statement is taken from the 2018 coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and SPD political parties. Two and a half years later, the draft bill on autonomous driving at level 4 and above is now being published. The law should help to position Germany as a pioneer of innovative mobility, with the goal of authorizing autonomous driving at these levels and anchoring it in the law.

Throughout discussions on the draft bill, the issue of parking proved to be a sticking point. This post will analyze how the new autonomous driving law affects car park operators and, in turn, the role of parking in the development of the law.

Autonomous Parking – Double Standards

Even though parking supposedly carries the least risk of causing a serious accident, it’s precisely for this reason that it’s the most urgent case of autonomous driving. Why? When a vehicle drives in a slow and controlled manner, it’s easier to drive autonomously and easier to regulate. However, the idea of a car driving through a temporary construction site at 60mph without a driver is still a long way off. The special role of parking in the context of autonomous driving has been made clear in the past; existing parking assistance systems already belong to level 2 (“partial automation”) and are therefore legally permissible. In the same way, there is the possibility of a special permit for driverless parking which is granted by the regulator, provided it takes place in separate parking spaces.

And yet it’s not easy to regulate safe autonomous parking. A major challenge is that both public and – to a large extent – private car parks must be taken into account in the implementation. While the standards necessary for implementation can also be required for public car parks, private providers, who usually follow statutory regulations and consider road traffic regulations, are indirectly forced to adapt to them without having the same basic requirements. Are the lanes wide enough? Is sufficient technology available? Who is liable in the event of damage and how can the simultaneous operation of autonomous and human-driven cars be handled?

Parking as a Guinea Pig for Autonomous Driving

For the first time, the legal regulation of autonomous driving is being applied in a tangible and rather specific way in the area of parking and is thus serving as an example for many subsequent areas of autonomous driving. The transition towards autonomous driving is so profound that the traffic debate is either very abstract or (in the technical field) discussed at a high level of detail. The practical challenges, which only become apparent with the introduction and implementation of autonomous driving, are often still very far away.

Finally, legislators must make an effort to consider, and bring on board, all the different actors involved – including private car park operators. At the same time, discussions during the development of the law between car park operators, legislators, and car manufacturers must be very precise and based on practical examples. Providers must be able to contribute their experiences in the course of the legislative process in order to ensure feasibility in retrospect. It’s here in particular that car park operators have so far been rather left out of the picture.

It’s therefore important to reach a clever compromise which, above all, allows for rapid application and doesn’t leave any actor in the process by the wayside.

Sign Up for our Monthly Policy Brief

Our monthly bilingual policy brief is full of articles relevant to policymakers, city officials and mobility enthusiasts.