Who will be able to drive hands-free on September 1 in France? Maybe no one

To move from level 2 autonomous driving to level 3, which allows hands-free driving, the legislative framework must be developed in France. A new phase will be possible on September 1. But what changes are actually covered?

Without changes in the legislative framework, autonomous driving will not develop freely in France. Unlike what is seen in the USA with Tesla and its Full Self-Driving autonomous driving, in France, the legal framework establishes stricter rules for experimentation. It is precisely the opening of a new stage towards “hands-free” autonomous driving that many commands that allow level 3 of this automatic driving will start on September 1, 2022.

Thanks to new technological developments, level 3 autonomous driving will be possible. This will allow you to drive without having to keep your hands on the wheel all the time and without maintaining constant vigilance on the road. Except that the announcement is not as exciting as it looks, because many restrictions apply.

What are the changes for autonomous cars on September 1 in France?

Vehicles currently on sale in France and in Europe are equipped with driver assistance devices (ADAS), equivalent to level 2 autonomous driving. This equipment is usually optional and mainly equipped with the highest finish of the new models. Adaptive cruise control is not, by itself, a Level 2 autonomous driving solution.

When cars are equipped with ADAS level 2 autonomous driving, this is only partial driving automation: acceleration, braking, lane keeping. This requires the driver’s constant attention and requires him to keep his hands on the steering wheel. For all these vehicles, there is no change in 1e September.

Level 3 autonomous driving is a small step forward. This new measure plans to allow drivers not to hold the steering wheel when automatic steering is active. One can think that a system like fully self-driving (FSD) from Tesla may be allowed on our roads. This is not the case, because the framework in which this functionality can be used is limited by several aspects: type of roads, speed and vehicles.

What roads are affected?

Level 3 autonomous driving is usually permitted on expressways and highways. Channels must have a central separator. No pedestrians or bicycles should share the traffic on this axis for level 3 autonomous driving to be possible there.

Autonomous driving – lidar & sensors // Source: BMW

But the type of route is not the only constraint that is imposed, which prevents the cases where it can be used.

What is the maximum driving speed?

This hands-free delegated driving can only be activated if the current traffic speed is below 60 km/h. Therefore, it is forbidden to drive on the expressway in heavy, even congested, traffic. One can compare the use of this technology to traffic in… the Paris ring road.

It is therefore more limited than level 2 autonomous driving, which you can participate in on roads and highways up to the maximum speed allowed by the axis taken (90, 110 or 130 km / h in France).

The speed limit, which is below 60 km/h, can be taken with a rapid increase to a higher speed.

What car models are affected?

Currently, only Mercedes has approved a system that corresponds to level 3 autonomous driving in all the requested aspects. Different manufacturers are already actively working on different levels of autonomous driving. Many of them (BMW, Audi, Peugeot, Ford, etc.) will be able to present and deliver vehicles equipped for this technology in the coming years.

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Mercedes drive pilot – autonomous driving // Source: Mercedes Benz

Despite the development of Tesla’s autonomous system, it remains level 2 autonomous driving. Tesla must undergo certification, according to the rules, to operate its advanced autopilot systems in Europe.

In any case, if your car allows level 2 autonomous driving, it does not mean that you can let go of the steering wheel to hand over the driving of your car.

What does the person behind the wheel always do?

For vehicles with technological equipment that allows level 3 autonomous driving, drivers do not need to put their hands on the wheel and are able to look away from the road when the system is activated. However, they must always be able to control the car, in a few seconds, when the system asks them to do so. Forget the idea of ​​sleeping in traffic jams, it’s not on the agenda yet.

As you understand, for all other drivers with level 2 driving, there is no change.

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The level of autonomy of a vehicle. // Source: Chloé Batiot for Numerama

Who is responsible if there is an accident?

It is in particular on the question of liability in the event of an accident decrees, such as n ° 2021-873 of June 29, 2021, expected.

Articles L.123-1 and L.123-2 of the Highway Code have been modified to address this question of liability in case of delegation of driving. In particular, there is this text:

At times when the automatic driving system uses the dynamic control of the vehicle according to the conditions of its use, the vehicle manufacturer or its authorized representative, within the meaning of Article 3 of Regulation (EU) 2018/858 of the European Parliament and of the Council on May 30, 2018, there is criminal liability for the crimes of involuntary attack on the life or integrity of the person (…) if it is established as a mistake, within the meaning of the article 121-3 of the same code. »

In the case of autonomous driving, the responsibility in case of an accident rests with the manufacturer. Unless the driver has regained dynamic control of the vehicle, or has not responded to the vehicle’s commands to regain control.

However, we risk quickly finding ourselves facing investigations similar to those carried out in the United States, where Tesla has shown that autonomous driving was not active during some accidents. This is why new cars must be equipped with black boxes.

What are the next steps in autonomous driving?

Level 4 autonomous driving will extend the range of level 3 autonomous driving. The cars still have a steering wheel for situations where manual steering is not available (for example: bad weather). The vehicle must be able to manage traffic in complex situations without having to ask the driver to take the controls.

Level 5 driving is equivalent to vehicles going around without a driver. Like the robot-taxi experiments in the United States or China, the vehicles will be fully autonomous, no longer needing a licensed driver or having steering wheels and pedals on board.

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