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Way free for autonomous driving

Germany is the first country in the world to pass a law for autonomous driving. It is intended to make the roads safer and also more climate-friendly. To implement it, special lanes or entire zones would have to be set up in which the vehicles can travel.

The law on autonomous driving passed by the government could come into force as early as next year. Only the Federal Council still has to pass it. The law provides for e-cars, trucks and buses to be allowed to drive autonomously, i.e. without a driver, on German roads. In other countries, such as America, autonomous driving is already being tested, but vehicles there are not yet allowed to be driven fully autonomously, as the German law now provides.

Initially, vehicles in Germany will be allowed to drive in defined areas, for example in specially designated lanes or in entire zones. Another prerequisite is that although the vehicle can drive itself with the help of the on-board computer, a kind of "technical supervision" can control the vehicle remotely and take over control in an emergency.  In buses, there is also to be an emergency brake that passengers, a supervisor or the remote control can trigger.

The law also stipulates that vehicles must not weight people on the basis of personal characteristics. The highest priority, it says, is human life. If an accident is then unavoidable, however, the vehicle is not then allowed to make a decision as to whether one person's life is worth more or less than another. This ethical question has often been discussed in the debate on autonomous driving.

The majority of citizens rate autonomous driving positively. According to a survey by the digital association Bitkom, 54% of the 1,003 respondents estimate that driverless driving will bring benefits for the climate, as the vehicles would consume less fuel due to an optimally adjusted speed. Dr Bernhard Rohleder, Chief Executive of the Digital Association, agrees. The intelligent vehicles would cause less stop-and-go in inner cities and be able to save fuel by maintaining a constant speed outside towns as well. However, the unclear legal situation worries many citizens. 64% also assume that the vehicles could be hacked.

Certainly, there is still a lot of need for clarification of the details in real-world operation so that driverless driving can be implemented in Germany. However, VW wants to test its system on German roads as early as next year. Lanes and zones for autonomous driving could then also become reality.

But it will probably be some time before we can glide relaxed through the cities in robot vehicles.