Early this month, reports surfaced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation in the Autopilot system of Tesla Motors, as the driver of a Tesla Model S electric vehicle was killed in a crash while the self-driving feature was activated.
Since then, more accidents involving the electric vehicles of Tesla Motors while Autopilot mode is turned on have been reported, with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk continuing to defend the feature. Instead of disabling Autopilot, the company has increased its efforts to educate customers on the limitations of Autopilot and is looking to make further improvements to the platform.
With the safety of the drivers and passengers of self-driving cars in the spotlight, Germany has decided to spearhead new regulations for the industry.
According to sources from the transport ministry, Germany is planning new legislation that will require manufacturers of vehicles that come with self-driving capabilities to install black boxes in their cars. These black boxes, similar to the ones utilized in the aircraft industry, will help in determining whether the driver or the vehicle is responsible in case of any accidents.
The black box will record information on when the self-driving systems of the vehicles were active, when it was the driver who was controlling the vehicle and when the system requested for the driver to take back control.
Tesla Motors already has such a system in place for its vehicles, which has allowed the car company to study the information on the car crashes and to determine what went wrong in each case. While privacy advocates could raise concerns on having black boxes in private vehicles, the need for such a system in self-driving vehicles is apparent in how Tesla Motors is able to handle each car crash.
The proposal lodged by Germany's transport minister Alexander Dobrindt will allow drivers to not pay attention to the road traffic and to put their concentration away from steering. However, drivers will be required to remain seated behind the wheel of vehicles while in self-driving mode, so that in the case of an emergency, they can take back control of the car immediately.
Germany, which is the home of international automobile manufacturers such as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW, is looking to become the global leader in the self-driving vehicle industry, as supported by the country's government. In April, Chancellor Angela Merkel requested the industry to create a wish list for the development of self-driving cars.