Driverless cars on the roads

Driverless cars will soon be taking to the roads in the Netherlands. The government has approved the Autonomous Vehicles (Trials) Bill proposed by infrastructure minister Melanie Schultz, allowing trials with autonomous cars without a driver on board. By removing legal barriers, the Minister wants to give manufacturers more opportunities to test autonomous vehicles.

'This bill brings the Netherlands a step nearer to introducing autonomous driving,' Ms Schultz said. 'In this country we have the ideal combination of sophisticated, intelligent infrastructure, smart researchers and innovative high-tech companies. Together we can seize opportunities to put transport mobility solutions into practice.'

The bill will enable autonomous transport to be tested on a wider scale in the Netherlands. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to improve transport mobility. They can drive closer together, making better use of road capacity. The cars communicate with each other, reducing congestion. The roads will also be safer -around 90% of current road accidents are caused by human error. Finally, self-driving vehicles are more fuel-efficient, making them cheaper and better for the environment.

Safety

When the Autonomous Vehicles (Trials) Bill becomes law, manufacturers will be able to apply for permits to test vehicles that are controlled remotely by a human operator on public roads. It has been possible to test self-driving vehicles on Dutch roads since July 2015, but a driver has always had to be in the vehicle to take over if necessary. Manufacturers have also needed an exemption from the Road Transport Agency (RDW) to carry out these tests.

Under the new bill, RDW will decide in advance - working with the Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV), the road authority and the police - where and under what conditions self-driving vehicles can be tested. Permits may, for example, stipulate that the manufacturer must take measures to warn other road users that the vehicle is remotely controlled. In the interests of road safety, motorists could be informed of the times and locations at which they might encounter a driverless vehicle on the road.
The road tests will help the infrastructure minister decide whether regulations need further amendment to cater for new developments. This approach ties in with the government's wish to futureproof regulations by removing obstacles to innovation.

Getting the EU on board

The Autonomous Vehicles (Trials) Bill is indicative of the Dutch ambition to lead the field in developing self-driving cars. Legislative scope was created back in 2015 for trials with such vehicles, under certain conditions.
In 2016, the Netherlands took the lead in establishing the Declaration of Amsterdam, in which all EU member states agreed to work together to speed up the development of self-driving vehicles throughout Europe.

Large-scale trials

Last week, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden and 21 other EU countries agreed to work together to launch large-scale trials with self-driving vehicles. The trials will involve truck platooning and vehicles that use data communications to move in convoy on autopilot. The first trials will be launched this year or in early 2018. Countries and manufacturers have also agreed that it must be possible for self-driving vehicles to operate across borders by 2019.