Self-driving vehicles to hit the roads

In the near future, self-driving vehicles with no driver on board will be seen on Dutch public roads. The cabinet, acting on a proposal made by Minister Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure & the Environment, has adopted a bill which will make it possible to conduct experiments with self-driving vehicles without a driver being physically present in the vehicle. The Experimenteerwet zelfrijdende auto (law governing the experimental use of self-driving vehicles) removes legal impediments and the Minister has thus ensured manufacturers will have more opportunities to conduct tests involving self-driving vehicles.

Minister Schultz: ‘With this bill, the Netherlands is taking a significant step towards the introduction of self-driving vehicles. In our country, we have the ideal combination of good, smart infrastructure, intelligent researchers and an innovative high-tech business community. Together, we can seize the chance to make the mobility solutions of the future a reality.’
 
The loosening of legal restrictions means that, in the Netherlands, more extensive tests can now be performed with self-driving vehicles. Driverless-vehicles can mean a great deal in terms of mobility: they can drive more closely behind one another so that road capacity is better utilized. Moreover, since the vehicles can communicate with each other, traffic will flow more smoothly. And, traffic will also become safer: currently, some 90% of road accidents are caused by human error. In addition, self-driving vehicles use less fuel which make them environmentally friendly and financially more attractive.

 

Safety

The law governing the experimental use of self-driving vehicles will soon enable companies to apply for a permit to conduct tests with driverless-vehicles on public roads, with a human being ready to take command via remote control. Testing had been possible in the Netherlands since July 2015, via an exemption from the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (RDW), but under the exemption a human being always had to be present in the vehicle to physically take over control if needed.
The locations and conditions under which tests can be performed without the presence of a driver, will be assessed in advance by the RDW in collaboration with experts, including the National Scientific Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands (SWOV), the relevant road authority and the police. A permit can, for example, contain the condition that the manufacturer must take measures to, among other things, warn road users that a self-driving-vehicle with a remote driver is using the road. To guarantee road safety, the provision of information to other motorists (regarding the times and locations at which they may encounter a remotely controlled vehicle on public roads) may be taken into further consideration.

Based on the tests on public roads, the Minister can decide if the legislation has to be further amended in line with new developments. This approach implements the desire of the cabinet to produce future-proof legislation through which impediments to innovation are removed in a timely fashion.

 

Including the EU in rapid development

The law governing the experimental use of self-driving vehicles is in line with the ambition of the Netherlands to add momentum to the development of self-driving vehicles. In 2015, an amendment to the law already made it possible, under certain conditions, to test self-driving vehicles on public roads.
In 2016, at the initiative of the Netherlands, the Declaration of Amsterdam was signed. In the Declaration, all EU member states agreed to cooperate on accelerating the development of self-driving vehicles throughout Europe.

 

Large-scale tests

Last week, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Austria and 21 other EU member states made agreements on setting up, as quickly as possible, the large-scale testing of self-driving vehicles. The tests will involve, among other things, truck platooning and vehicles that communicate data to one another in order to drive on automatic pilot. The first tests are expected to take place at the end of this year, or early in 2018. The various countries and manufacturers also agreed with each other that self-driving vehicles should be able to cross borders in 2019.