Introduction

The Paris Agreement sets the ambitious goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the 21st century. Therefore, worldwide traffic and transport must change. Despite these objectives, people tend to overlook the fact that automated driving is not only innovative and comfortable, but may also have an important impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in future.

The principal public interest in automated vehicles is an improvement in safety. The decrease in crash rates and the consequential benefits of the ability to use lighter vehicles will also lead to a reduction in fuel consumption. Emissions can also be saved by 'platooning' – the practice of running vehicles together closely in order to reduce air resistance. Adaptive cruise control systems and a decrease in collisions will significantly reduce congestion and increase highway capacity without requiring new construction. All of these effects could yield significant fuel savings of up to 20%.(1)

Legal framework

Austria recognises the potential benefits of automated and networked vehicle technologies on the climate. Since December 2016 testing on roadways with public traffic has been legally possible.

In 2016 adaptions to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic(2) came into force and allowed automated driving technologies to transfer driving tasks to the vehicle. However, these technologies must:

  • be capable of being overridden or switched off by the driver; and
  • meet the construction, fittings and use conditions set out in relevant international legal instruments.

This international milestone resulted in an Action Plan for Automated Driving in Austria created by the Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT).(3) On that basis, the Austrian legislature inserted new paragraphs (3a and 3b) into Article 102 of the Motor Vehicle Act.(4)

The amendment authorised the BMVIT to specify the testing conditions for vehicles, using assistance systems or automated or connected driving systems in the Automated Driving Ordinance.(5) At present, testing is permitted only for autonomous minibuses, motorway pilots with automatic lane change or self-propelled military vehicles. Regardless of these legal changes, the test driver remains responsible for driving.

To provide additional safety guidelines for the testing, a legally non-binding code of practice(6) (soft law) was established as a supplementary guide. It may be characterised as an anticipated expert opinion.

Complementary actions

In addition to the legal framework, the BMVIT took several measures to encourage the development and implementation of automated vehicles in Austria:

  • A special test environment was created in partnership with infrastructure operators, research institutions and important stakeholders (eg, testing grounds in Graz and the A2 motorway).(7)
  • Technology funding totalling €20 million between 2016 and 2018 is provided for research in areas such as mobility, information and communication technologies, and test areas.(8)
  • The BMVIT is counselled by an interdisciplinary board with technical, legal, ethical, spatial planning and socio-economic expertise.(9)
  • An Austrian point of contact for automated driving(10) and a staff position for the changing of mobility and decarbonisation(11) were established to coordinate the future strategy.

Comment

Automated vehicles have the potential to bring about a technology shift and will change how we move from point A to B. Although there are uncertainties concerning market penetration and the possible overlap with other technologies, the opportunities that automated driving could bring in a complex transport system cannot be underestimated. Positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved if implemented in the right way – for example, in combination with a car sharing system.(12)

Austria was one of the five countries that initiated the amendments to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic in favour of automated driving. The government took positive steps by establishing various legal and non-legal measures to integrate the technology into Austrian legislation, infrastructure and the economy. All Austrian funding programmes, test environments and test scenarios on public roads are open for international participation. However, the intended future programmes will succeed only if they go hand in hand with social commitment and a change in how we understand transport and mobility.

For further information on this topic please contact Monika Romaniewicz-Wenk or Christoph Jirak at at Schoenherr Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+43 1 53 43 70), or email (m.romaniewicz-wenk@schoenherr.eu or c.jirak@schoenherr.eu). The Schoenherr Rechtsanwälte website can be accessed at www.schoenherr.eu.

Endnotes

(1) Fraunhofer-Institute IAO, Hochautomatisiertes Fahren auf Autobahnen – Industriepolitische Schlussfolgerungen (2015) 280; California Air Resources Board, Climate and Energy Impacts of Automated Vehicles (2014) 16; Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, Action Plan Automated Driving (2016) 4.

(2) United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, November 8 1968, Article 8, 1042 UNTS 17.

(3) The BMVIT, Action Plan Automated Driving (June 2016) 7.

(4) Published in Federal Law Gazette 1967/267, as amended.

(5) Published in Federal Law Gazette II 2016/402.

(6) See www.austriatech.at/en/activities-1/point-of-contact-automated-driving.

(7) See www.bmvit.gv.at/service/faktenblaetter/automatisiertesFahren_testen.pdf; www.joanneum.at/de/digital/referenzprojekte/alplab.html (in German).

(8) See www.bmvit.gv.at/verkehr/automatisiertesFahren/foerderungen.html (in German).

(9) See www.bmvit.gv.at/verkehr/automatisiertesFahren/index.html (in German).

(10) See www.austriatech.at/en/activities-1/point-of-contact-automated-driving.

(11) See www.bmvit.gv.at/verkehr/automatisiertesFahren/index.html (in German).

(12) The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's International Transport Forum, Shared Automated Vehicles: Review of Business Models (2017).

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