Geneva Convention & Vienna Convention

Vehicle automation and fully autonomous cars

The German Government has passed legislation to allow autonomous vehicles on public roads to leave the “drivers” responsible for the malfunction of automated systems [1]. This is due to the Geneva Convention [2] and the Vienna Convention [3], which refer to the fact that the driver should be able to control the vehicle, eg in an emergency.

The countries that have not signed the Geneva and Vienna conventions have the advantage over the European Union in supporting fully automated mobility. An example of such a country is the United States, which does not explicitly state that autonomous vehicles would be illegal, therefore autonomous vehicles are being registered there and move on public roads [4].

In the European Union itself, the convention was not signed by the United Kingdom Government, so that the plans for the development of automated mobility outweigh the continental countries to the point that the Queen announced her country as leading in the development and implementation of these solutions [5].

The SOHJOA project implemented in Helsinki is an example of the operation of public vehicles without drivers, which is possible thanks to the presence of an “operator” in the vehicle, which according to the conventions has the ability to observe and react to the road traffic — but only by deactivating the systems and stopping the vehicle by pressing the emergency button [6].

The broader interpretation of the convention says that the driver is a person, and the legislation distinguishes natural- (physical) and legal person (corporate). Meanwhile, the GEAR 2030 Working Group meets for two years until 2018 to develop solutions for autonomous traffic in the European Union, consequently DG Move Transport Department will amend the directive on intelligent transport systems [7].

However, the question remains whether the Geneva and Vienna conventions need to be updated or their interpretation loosen.


[1] Bundesregierung, Automatisiertes Fahren auf dem Weg. Strassenverkehrsgesetz, Artikel.

[2] United Nations (UN), Convention on Road Traffic. Geneva Convention 1949.

[3] Economic Commission for Europe, Convention on Road Traffic. Vienna Convention 1968.

[4] EU countries want legal change for driverless cars — but they’ll have to wait, in Road Transport, Special Report 2016.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Ibidem.