Test driver in a highly automated car
Photo: Julian Rettig
According to the plans of the car companies, completely self-driving vehicles should become part of everyday life on the streets.
But this has serious legal and ethical consequences: Who is liable if there is an accident?
Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) wants to create clarity with a draft law on autonomous driving.
The set of rules is currently being discussed in Parliament, and there was a hearing in the Transport Committee this week.
But the project meets with fundamental criticism from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv).
In a position paper, the consumer advocates warn against treating the owner as sole liable if he has an accident with his self-driving car.
The association writes: "The greatest responsibility should lie with the manufacturer", followed by technical supervision - and only then the person who is driving the vehicle.
The association fears that private owners of such cars could be overwhelmed.
For this reason, only commercial users should be allowed to drive these cars until further notice.
It is also important that the vehicle owner retains sovereignty over the data generated by the car.
How urgently the question needs to be clarified is shown by the fact that it is more and more common in new cars that the computer takes over driving functions.
A pioneer is the US electric car company Tesla, which calls its systems "autopilot" and suggests that the car would drive practically independently.
This regularly seduces owners into relying too much on the assistance system;
therefore accidents occur again and again.
In extreme cases, it is about human life: How does a machine control when a decision has to be made between colliding with a group of people or a single pedestrian?
But every banal sheet metal damage will also require different regulations in the future, because the software in such cars ultimately often bears more responsibility for the crash than the person sitting at the steering wheel.
The consumer advocates propose to set up a new edition of the ethics committee, which established principles for automated and networked driving a few years ago. These standards should be further specified.