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Self-driving and truck platooning: a modification of legislation is required

donderdag 2 februari 2017

We read about it in the news so often: accidents - fatal or otherwise - with self-driving cars. One of the questions that arise is: who is liable for such accidents? This is a phenomenon not (yet) provided for by current legislation.

Truck platooning

This issue is not limited to self-driving cars but also covers truck platooning. Truck platooning means that several trucks are electronically linked to each other on the basis of specific software. Only the first truck is manned by a driver. This front truck determines the speed and route, with the other trucks following him automatically. There are no drivers in the following trucks. Interventions, such as swerving to avoid something, can only be made by the front truck (with driver). This too is subject to various legal and insurance-related questions. What if one of the following trucks unexpectedly has to swerve and then causes damage? What if the front truck makes an error (of judgement) and the trucks behind automatically follow? Who is liable: the driver, the manufacturer of the truck or the manufacturer of the software? How are dangerous weather conditions dealt with? What if the computer system of the vehicle is hacked? In other words: legislation needs to be modified for these technical developments. It is also necessary for the layout of public roads to be modified for self-driving vehicles. Examples include traffic signs, road and other markings and exit and entry slip roads. 


It is not just the liability rules and road layout that need adjusting, so does insurance law. After all, self-driving vehicles are almost impossible to insure at the moment. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the extent of the premium for such insurance. On the one hand, it is argued that self-driving cars cause a lot less damage because the concept is supposedly a lot safer than normal driving. On the other hand, the expensive technology and software may cause premiums to rise. 

Modification of legislation

Legislation will have to be modified in the short term. TLN (Transport and Logistics Netherlands) and Rijkswaterstaat (the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management) want to test truck platooning on the public roads between now and a year. In Germany, developments with semi-self-driving (i.e. still using a driver) are more advanced: a legislative proposal is being prepared and a first drive with a semi-self-driving truck among regular traffic was made at the end of last year. The driver is required to remain in the cabin, enabling him to immediately take over the controls of the truck in an emergency. The German government is also considering making black boxes (like those in airplanes) mandatory. 

There is a fear that the European Union will be unable to have legislation in place in time, as a result of which technical developments are hampered. We are keeping a close eye on the developments in this field. 


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Peter Verheijden

commercial cooperations, mergers and acquisitions, employment law and employer representation 

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