Germany plans "black box" recorder rule for Autopilot-style cars

With controversy lingering over the role Tesla's Autopilot played in recent crashes, German regulators are preparing new rules that would demand "black box" recorders in any car offering driver assistance technology. Though fully self-driving cars are still some way off from general market availability, increasingly capable semi-autonomous or "piloted driving" systems are spreading from luxury sedans down to the mass market.

Now, Reuters reports, the German Transport Ministry is planning to keep an eye on just what role the computer is playing.

According to sources at the Ministry, the aircraft-style black box recorder would be a mandatory install in any car offering combined features like adaptive cruise control and auto-steering or lane assistance.

It would be responsible for logging when the car was driving itself and when the human driver was in control, as well as highlighting any moments where the system required the driver to intervene.

In concert with the recorder, regulations absolving drivers from monitoring traffic or actively steering would be implemented, though they'd still have to be sat behind the wheel and ready to take charge if necessary.

Other German ministries will be given an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal this summer, before the new rules are ratified.

Currently, requirements for semi-autonomous technology monitoring varies broadly, with car companies left much to their own devices as to what to install. In recent Tesla incidents, for instance, the cars were fitted with data loggers that, when the EV automaker gained access to them, revealed when Autopilot was and wasn't active.

Indeed, in a crash involving a new Model X SUV, Tesla's sifting of the car's data revealed that – contrary to the driver's claims that Autopilot was active at the time – there was no indication that the system had been responsible.

It's unclear at this stage whether the German regulations will require a common language for black box recorders; in the case of the Tesla crashes, investigators have had to wait for the automaker itself to extract and decode the various logs gathered.

While Tesla, Volvo, and others have been upbeat about the safety potential of piloted driving systems, the degree to which drivers over-estimate the capabilities of the technology is still unclear. Research indicates that there's no easy answer to how to keep users sufficiently engaged that they're ready to weigh in should circumstances overwhelm the car's ability.

SOURCE Reuters