China may adopt some of Germany's law on self-driving cars: expert

BERLIN (Reuters) - The Chinese government is evaluating a German law that lays the groundwork for use of self-driving cars, and will likely adopt some of the German rules, a legal expert said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Volkswagen self-driving car Sederic is seen before the annual earnings news conference of VW in Berlin in Berlin, Germany, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

Eric Hilgendorf, who teaches law at the University of Wuerzburg and served on the German government’s ethics commission on automated driving, said he had been invited to China in the coming weeks to present information about the law.

Hilgendorf, who will give three lectures at the Renmin University of China Law School and hold high-level meetings about the new legislation, said China had adopted a great deal of German criminal and civil law, albeit with some tweaks, and he expected similar action in this case.

“Especially when it comes to technical issues, they’re often ready to adopt large sections of our law,” he told Reuters after a speech at an Aspen Institute conference on artificial intelligence.

German carmakers could benefit if China adopted similar laws and guidelines on the issue, Hilgendorf said, noting it would mean fewer modifications for exports to China.

Carmakers around the world are teaming up with technology companies in areas such as machine learning and mapping as they race against Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Tesla and Apple to develop autonomous vehicles.

Both industries see huge potential revenues in the market for autonomous vehicles, which could be available for wide use in just two years. But it remains unclear how many drivers will be ready to give up control, and many countries must still put laws in place to allow self-driving cars to hit the road.

Germany last year paved the way for testing self-driving cars with a law that requires a driver to be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the vehicle.

German carmakers, Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE, Daimler and BMW, have all invested heavily in the technology.

The new legislation allows them to road-test vehicles in which drivers will be allowed to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road to browse the web or check e-mails while the vehicle handles steering or braking autonomously.

Hilgendorf was part of the government-appointed committee that drew up the world’s first ethics guidelines for the field of autonomous cars, including a requirement for the software that controls them to be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter