Is autonomous driving really possible? A new report is skeptical.

autonomes Fahren

The discussions about advantages and disadvantages of autonomous driving do not stop. On the one hand, experts warn against unregulated liability issues. On the other hand cyber security is still not guaranteed.

On April 25, Kieler Nachrichten published an Interview with the legal expert and former president of the district court Lübeck, Hans-Ernst Böttcher, on this topic with the rather lurid headline “Autonomous driving is a phantasm”. The legal expert makes it no secret that he considers autonomous driving unrealizable. He points out that there is still the owner and to a certain extent the driver liable. In addition, he says that no driving program would ever be able to detect all dangerous situations, since these are too versatile. Another hurdle in the opinion of Böttcher could be the huge data system that would be necessary for this – with all the problems of data protection and error proneness.

A freshly published report by the International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental organization of the OECD with 59 member countries, points in the same direction. The report  points out that automated cars and trucks can also make the roads more unsafe. When robots and humans share responsibility for control of a vehicle, it results in even more complex decisions than before. The unintended consequence could be that driving becomes more unsafe instead of safer, according to the forum’s report. As the cause, the researchers primarily see transitional situations, in which the person takes control of the computer. “Here it could be more accidents, especially with ‘average’, risk-aware drivers.

Beware of cyber risks

Whilst fully autonomous driving can significantly reduce the number of serious accidents, in many situations people remain superior to semi-automated driving. Disadvantages of fully automated and networked vehicles, however, could then be the risks in terms of cyber security. Therefore, the study warns: “Avoiding accidents should never depend solely on access to a network or external communication channels.”

If autonomous driving should one day become reality, the open questions must be answered clearly and comprehensively. Otherwise it will remain a wish.

This is recommended by the report of the International Transport Forum:

  • oblige autonomous vehicles to transmit safety-relevant data
  • create a system of graduated field tests for self-driving cars
  • develop principles for cyber security in autonomous vehicles
  • informing the public clearly and specifically about the capabilities of automated vehicles




Ralf Johanning

Ralf Johanning studied political science and works as a freelance journalist. For over ten years now he reports on the transportation and logistics industry. The priorities include topics such as telematics, software, and ICT. In 2006 the trained editor, Head, and Press Officer founded the editorial office Alte Schule with his partner Ann-Christin Wimber.

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