Under the law, first mooted by Chancellor Angela Merkel last year, a driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the autonomous vehicle.
Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, all of which are investing heavily in a technology seen by transport minister Alexander Dobrindt as the “greatest mobility revolution since the invention of the car”.
The new legislation allows them to road-test vehicles in which drivers will be allowed to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road to browse the web or check e-mails while the vehicle handles steering or braking autonomously.
The legislation requires that a black box record the journey underway, logging whether the human driver or the car’s self-piloting system was in charge at all moments of the ride. This will be crucial for apportioning blame in accidents.
The law will be revised in two years’ time in the light of technological developments, with data protection and the use of the data collected during rides a key point that has yet to be fully addressed.