Within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 53 countries, including the EU Member States, have agreed on common rules for so-called "Level 3" vehicle automation, i.e. vehicles that can perform some driving functions, including a mandatory black box.
At levels 3 to 5, the vehicle is fully automated, which means that the driver does not drive when the automated systems are switched on, but can jump in at any time and must take over when the system requests it. For comparison, Tesla's autopilot is at level 2, where the driver is expected to focus his attention on the traffic. At level 4, a driver does not need to be prepared to intervene quickly, at least in limited areas, while at level 5 the vehicles are fully autonomous.
Japan, which played a leading role in the drafting of the regulation together with Germany, will apply the mandatory rules when they come into force in January 2021. The European Commission, which was also involved in the project alongside France, Canada and especially the Netherlands, said the rules would apply in the EU at an indefinite later date, according to the UNECE.
The rules lay down strict requirements for Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS), which can steer the vehicle when the driver is behind the steering wheel with the seat belt on. The rules ensure that ALKS can only be activated on roads equipped with a physical separation that separates traffic in opposite directions, where pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited. They also set a speed limit of 60 kilometres (37 miles) per hour. They also require that vehicles must be equipped with a data storage system for automated driving, known as the "black box", which records as soon as the ALKS is activated. Screens for activities other than driving are automatically switched off as soon as the driver takes control again. Car manufacturers must also introduce driver availability detection systems that monitor the driver's ability to regain control of the vehicle, including by blinking and closing his eyes. ALKS will also have to meet the cybersecurity and software updating requirements laid down in two other new UN regulations, that were also adopted shortly afterwards.