Driverless laws Europe




European countries are encountering the same problems as the United States when it comes to autonomous cars law in Europe. In theory it should be the European Union deciding on future driving arrangements, but in practice the decision still lies with the national politicians. The European Union is a slow organ, far from answering the many research and regulatory questions that must be considered before autonomous vehicles can be put on sale.
But the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) is putting pressure on the law making process. As a result, in 2016, the European Commission’s industry department launched ‘Gear 2030’, a high-level expert group to address future development of the automotive industry including issues related to automated driving. Furthermore the European Union is funding research on automated road transport as a priority in the Horizon 2020 Transport Research programe.


In 2014 an important change was made to the Vienna Convention of 1968, which stated a driver should also have at least one hand on the steering wheel. The old law blocked autonomous cars law in Europe. The amendments was a step in the right direction. It still demands that every vehicle must have a driver, however, may take his hands off the wheel in automated systems, but must be ready at all times to take over the driving functions. The amendment was submitted by the governments of Germany, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria. European countries are pushing to get autonomous driving legalized in the EU. These countries already have driverless laws:

United Kingdom

The UK never ratified the Vienna Convention in the first place. The country has been a misfit when it comes to self-driving since the beginning. In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom permitted the testing of autonomous cars on public roads.

And unlike the Canadian government in Ontario the UK has had many applicants. Volvo is planning to move their Drive Me project to London in 2017 and Jaguar Land Rover will be testing a 100 car strong self-driving fleet in Coventry.


In July 2016 the British government also openly stated a consultation looking into tweaking regulations on driver insurance and road regulations for self-driving cars. The proposals include changes to insurance laws so that motorists who have handed control to their self-driving cars can be insured properly. It also suggests amendments to the Highway Code along with redrafting regulations to support the safe use of remote control parking and motorway assist features.




Germany is home to some of the world's largest car companies including Volkswagen Mercedes-Benz and BMW and the government wants the industry to become a global player in the market for self-driving vehicles. Driverless testing has been allowed on Germany’s national highway for many years. It has resulted in BMW’s, TrackTrainer in 2011, a 3000-mile test from Munich to Nuremberg or Mercedes Benz’ platooning test of the Future Truck 2025 in 2014.


But a proposal of the German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt in 2016 could put a hold to Germany leading the self-driving future. The proposal would require drivers to be able to intervene in an emergency. They would not be expected to pay attention to traffic, but the legislation would require the existence of a steering wheel at all time. This too much criticism from companies involved. A similar proposed rules in California was heavily criticized by a number of companies, including Google. Germany new legislation would also require vehicles equipped with an autopilot function to install a black box to help determine responsibility in the event of an accident.


Volvo’s Drive Me project, where the Swedish car manufacturer is putting level 4 autonomous vehicles into the hands of its citizens is legal. The only reason for this is that is has been approved by the Swedish Transport Agency. Level 4 autonomy (= mind-off driving) is in direct collision with the Vienna Convention of 1968, but the project got an OK from the Swedish government. The self-driving car project is a joint initiative between the Volvo Group, the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Transport Agency as a test for upcoming law changes.


On April 11th 2016 a new legislative proposal was submitted to the Swedish Minister of Infrastructure and is expected to be passed on May 1st 2017. The proposal suggests that the Swedish Transport Agency should be responsible for authorising permits to carry out trials. Once approved, test organisations will be asked to:

  • Explain how issues relating to cyber security have been resolved and how those affected will receive the information required for trials to be carried out securely;
  • Present how the right to privacy and the right to the protection of personal data will be maintained, and how the requirements for security and protection against unauthorised access will be ensured.

The proposal states that when vehicles are in self-driving mode, criminal liability shall be borne by permit holders. Drivers will bear criminal liabilities in the cases where vehicles operate at lower levels of automation. The proposal also suggests that permit holders will be responsible for submitting information available from the vehicles’ sensors to insurance policyholders in cases where investigations are necessary.




In 2014 the government of France announced that testing of autonomous cars on public roads would be allowed in 2015. 2000 km of road would be opened through the national territory, especially in Bordeaux, in Isère, Île-de-France and Strasbourg.


This test happened due to as special legislation act by Ecology Minister Segolène Royal’s “loi sur la transition énergétique“, which came into force on August 18th 2015. The legal act authorizes the government to take within one year, “any measure in the area of the law to allow, for experimental purposes, traffic of vehicles on public roads with partial or total delegation of conduct.” This particular provision, scheduled for October 2015, will allow autonomous vehicles to circulate in the framework of the necessary tests, supervised by technicians able to take over the car at any moment.




Self-driving tests are legal in the Netherlands, but companies who want to test autonomous cars on public roads must apply for an exemption to the RDW, the Dutch civil road service. The Rijksdienst voor Wegverkeer will then determine the public safety through a risk assessment. The new technology must be tested on a closed area. In addition, the RDW will consult with the road authority which is the most suitable test site and whether additional requirements are necessary. For example, the time of day, weather conditions, the road condition all have impact.


According to Melanie Schultz Van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and Environment, this setup only allows small scale testing projects. In 2015 autonomous projects on public road were limited to truck platooning tests by TLN and DAF and a car testing project by TU Delft on bicycle roads in Mekelpark. Therefor she asked the Dutch government to revise the application rules to make large scale public road tests possible. Half 2016 she is still waiting for an official reply.




In spring of 2015, the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications in Switzerland, short UVEK, allowed Swisscom to test a driverless Volkswagen Passat on the streets of Zurich.