hands-free driving in Europe this summer

Autonomous driving is advancing in Europe. From July 14, 2022, an amendment will allow experimentation with hands-free driving, subject to a few conditions. In other words, Europe is going to try the level 3 autonomous driving.

The different levels of autonomous driving

A bit of background: do you know how autonomous driving works? It is usually divided into five levels or “steps”:

  1. the driver is assisted by the vehicle, with indications given in the event of danger, for example;
  2. driving is partially automated: the vehicle can, for example, accelerate and change direction, or assist in parking;
  3. the automation is conditioned: the vehicle can steer in a straight line and adapt its trajectory if the markings on the ground are clearly visible, for example;
  4. the very high level of automation means that the driver no longer has to take the wheel, except in extreme cases, such as very bad weather;
  5. total automation: driver intervention is no longer necessary.

Today in France, autonomous driving is permitted up to level two. The driver must therefore keep his hands on the steering wheel.

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Level three can be experienced from July 2022

But on January 14, the text of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968) was modified by 53 countries. Thanks to a amendment added to article 34, autonomous driving can be experienced from July 14, ie National Day!

As defined by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the level three states that “the driver does not drive when these automated driving systems are engaged — even if the driver is seated in the driver’s seat”. But if the system tells him to take back the controls, he must regain control of his vehicle. Thus, autonomous driving can only be introduced under “limited conditions”. In other words, it will only work “if all the conditions are met”.

This new legislation should therefore see the light of day in France. But first, level three autonomous driving will be tested in traffic jams on the highway. In addition, the roads concerned must prohibit traffic to pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, the carriageway must be “equipped with a physical separation which divides the traffic”. Finally, the “operational” speed must not exceed 60 km/h. A speed limit which could evolve if the tests are conclusive.

In Europe, the legal framework had already been adapted to hands-free driving

It should be recalled that in France, a decree had been adopted in order to update the highway code to allow autonomous vehicles to circulate from September 2022. In particular, the question of the liability in the event of an accident, if the autonomous driving system is activated. The government concluded that liability would be that of the system operator when autonomous driving is activated.

At the time, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari tweeted: “As of September 2022, [les véhicules autonomes homologués] will be able to ride on predefined routes or zones”.

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