Switzerland moves to allow self-driving cars on roads and motorways
At a meeting on October 18, the Federal Council confirmed that owners of self-driving cars may soon be able to take their hands off the wheel when motoring on roads and motorways in Switzerland. The government argued that autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce traffic jams and boost the economy, but some experts have raised safety concerns.
Driverless car rules to be relaxed in Switzerland
In a statement, the Federal Council confirmed that it will be looking to relax the rules around using self-driving or autonomous cars in Switzerland. As part of the innovation, the government announced that drivers will soon no longer have to be in “permanent” control of their vehicle when self-driving functions are on.
Specifically, the authorities hope to allow drivers of autonomous cars - and vehicles with self-driving functions like Tesla’s autopilot system - to “let go” of the steering wheel when the system is activated. However, under the plans, the police will still get involved if motorists nap or use their mobile phones while driving in automatic mode.
Drivers must also “remain ready to take control of the vehicle themselves at any time if the system asks them to do so or if it reaches its limits.” The council added that the relaxing of the rules does not give motorists permission to “indulge in other activities while driving.” Fully autonomous parking should also be permitted in the future, but only in designated areas.
Self-driving features still need to be approved by Fedro
However, before drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel and enjoy listlessly staring out of the front windscreen at the mountains and landscape of Switzerland, all pieces of self-driving technology have to be approved by the Federal Roads Office (Fedro), and currently, no piece of fully self-driving technology lives up to their standards.
In a statement given to Watson, Fedro said that for them to approve anything the systems will need to “be able to analyse traffic over a distance of several hundred meters… [this is] not possible with currently available sensors and without networking with other vehicles or the infrastructure.”
Nevertheless, the government hopes to begin testing self-driving vehicles in the next year, with a consultation period on the law change ending on February 2, 2024. In the statement, they argued that driverless cars “can increase road safety and improve traffic flow. In other words, fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents...This would [also] open up new opportunities for the economy and transport service providers.”
Swiss experts divided over the effect of driverless vehicles
However, some experts are not so sure. Speaking to 20 Minuten, professor of vehicle safety at the University of Applied Sciences in Bern, Raphael Murri, said that switching to driverless cars “can be dangerous…If the person mentally disengages from traffic to perhaps write a WhatsApp message, he or she is not prepared to intervene in a difficult situation.” However, he added that the technology could be useful in reducing traffic jams and enforcing the rules of the road.
By contrast to Murri, University of St. Gallen professor Andreas Herrmann argued that driverless cars can actually reduce the number of road accidents, noting that “90 percent of accidents are caused by human error and not by vehicle failure.” "Switzerland must become a location where automated driving is developed and designed", he added.
Despite his optimism, Herrmann conceded that he doesn’t “think the technology is ready yet.” When asked why Switzerland is still dragging its feet on autonomous vehicles and driverless functions, he argued that the residents of Swiss cities and cantons would not welcome self-driving cars in the same way that those in China and the US have. “In Switzerland, an accident with an autonomous car would be a scandal", he concluded.