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Autonomous vehicles: is Belgian road traffic legislation ready?

22/05/2019
Autonomous vehicles: is Belgian road traffic legislation ready?
Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

Autonomous vehicles, with varying degrees of autonomy, are on their way - although this will be slower than some had hoped or expected. This is notably the case for legal developments regarding this new form of mobility.

Is the legislation ready?

No. The Belgian road traffic legislation has not been adapted for traffic that includes autonomous vehicles. It does not include the concept of a driverless/autonomous car. Its regulations (with the exception of the limited rule concerning experiments with autonomous vehicless, see below) do not contain any rules for driverless/autonomous vehicless.

The legislation seems to contains an obstacle

The Belgian road traffic legislation requires that each vehicle has a driver. It is not unique in this respect as this provision transposes the corresponding provision of the international convention on road traffic (Article 8 of the Convention of Vienna on Road Traffic of 8 November 1968).

Neither the Belgian road traffic legislation nor the Convention explicitly require the driver to keep control of the steering wheel, but they do require the driver to be in the car and to be able to take over the steering wheel. At present, under current road traffic legislation, the 'driver' cannot sit in the back seat of the vehicle.

Experiments allowed

From 1 May 2018, car manufacturers and technology companies will be able to carry out tests with autonomous vehicles on Belgian roads. They must submit a request to this effect to the federal Minister of Transport. If the Minister grants this request, then the autonomous vehicles can drive autonomously on Belgian roads, with an operator supervising remotely from a control room.

To make such experiments legally possible, the Belgian road traffic legislation has been amended with the adoption of a new legal provision. Article 59/1 of the Road Code now provides that the minister responsible for road traffic may, by way of an exception, grant derogations from the provisions of the Road Code for test vehicles used in the context of experiments with automated vehicles, under the conditions and for a limited period of time to be determined by him/her.

The wording of this provision is obviously very broad. Following the Federal Public Service of Transport’s statement, no further conditions or limitations have been imposed as they could be too restrictive and it is also impossible to predict innovations in the coming years.

Change is on the way

Thus, for fully autonomous (without a driver) vehicles to be able to travel on Belgian roads, modifications to the Traffic Code will be required.

Regarding those changes, Belgium of course is not alone. As such, the Belgian Interfederal Working Group, which was founded to prepare a legal framework for autonomous vehicles, has been contributing to the activities of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (“UNECE”).Working Party on Road Traffic Safety (a working group following-up on traffic and traffic safety).

At the UNECE level, the Working Party is discussing the modification of the 1968 Vienna Convention in order to include systems that take over the full control of the vehicle. It has adopted a non-binding resolution on the deployment of automated vehicles in road traffic, including both recommendations for automated driving systems and recommendations for the users of these automated driving systems 

Specific modifications of international and Belgian legislation are awaited.

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