German carmakers consider using black-box recorders for self-drive cars

German carmakers consider using black-box recorders for self-drive cars
Mercedes-Benz and BMW are among automakers to have developed autonomous or semi-autonomous cars, along with technology company Google.

FRANKFURT - German carmakers are considering the use of aircraft-style "black box" data recorders in self-driving cars, a contentious idea in a country worried about surveillance, but potentially a crucial step in getting the new technology on the road.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW are among automakers to have developed autonomous or semi-autonomous cars, along with technology company Google.

But while some features, such as assisted parking, are commercially available, legal questions are hampering the roll-out of other technologies, such as automatic overtaking on motorways, and fully self-driven cars remain prototypes.

Installing an aircraft-style data recorder could help to address some of these questions by giving manufacturers and insurers clarity over who is liable when an autonomous car gets into a crash.

The issue is being debated by Germany's "roundtable on autonomous driving", a group hosted by government officials.

The group aims to ensure Germany does not lose its edge in car manufacturing and includes automakers, lawyers, privacy advocates and insurance executives tasked with identifying shortcomings in Germany's regulation, technological know-how, and legal framework. "Whether cars should have a black box is one of the items being discussed," a person familiar with the deliberations, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

With 90 per cent of accidents caused by human error, engineers at automakers are convinced cars should be given more leeway to intervene and help drivers in a dangerous situation, much in the same way computers help pilots land planes.

But a crucial issue to resolve, and one being debated by a subgroup of the roundtable, centres on liability.

German law does not distinguish between a car in an accident which was driving semi-autonomously or completely without driver input, even though there is an enormous difference technologically, and from the level of driver involvement.

To determine whether a car, its driver, or a third-party was primarily responsible for an accident, insurers and carmakers want to collect car data, including its speed and inputs from sensors, cameras and the driver.

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