“hands-free” driving approved in France from 1 September

Hands-free driving will be possible from September 1 on French roads, provided you have a car that apparently allows it: a semi-autonomous car, a new step towards the autonomous car.

We are not yet at the stage where we can take a nap or play video games on the way to vacation, but little by little we are moving towards the self-driving car. Or rather, initially semi-autonomous. From 1 September, the law will change. Level three self-driving cars will be allowed on European roads. Today, the rules allow driving at level two.

Autonomy levels for cars:
– Level 0: the driver controls everything
– Level 1: driving aids (cruise control)
– Level 2: automated tasks (ParkAssist)
– Level 3: semi-autonomous vehicle (delegated driving in predefined situations: motorway, traffic jams, parking)
– Level 4: Autonomous vehicle with steering wheel
– Level 5: autonomous vehicle without steering wheel or pedals

At level 3, you can legally let go of the wheel, the car drives itself, but you must be alert and be able to regain control at any time. There is no question of watching a series or reading while driving, nor under any conditions: carriageway without pedestrians or cyclists and maximum speed of 60 km/h. In fact, it will be especially useful in traffic jams, for example on the highway.

An exorbitant price

This is a scary step forward for the autonomous car. It is true that it is taking longer than expected, for regulatory but also technical reasons. You might as well drive a fully autonomous car on the highway, it’s playable, as much as Place de l’Etoile at 7pm, it’s extremely complex. The risk of computer hacking is also real. There are also financial considerations. The fully autonomous car requires billions of investments with an exorbitant price for the consumer. According to experts, they will cost at least twice as much as a very advanced car.

And then there is also a psychological barrier. Will we really be ready to get into an autonomous car? The French are most into it. According to the Autonomous Vehicle Acceptability Barometer, more than half intend to try an autonomous vehicle in the coming years. 39% think they will use it regularly in the future. These were roughly the same numbers as 15 years ago, when the French were asked what they thought of cruise control and advanced driver assistance systems, which have since been widely democratized. Those who have used one are generally won over: after a few minutes you get carried away and you forget you are in a vehicle driving alone.

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Change of the highway code

The self-driving car also forces a complete rethinking of the traffic law on liability in the event of an accident. Since last year, this is the case: autonomous cars are in the highway code. It’s a small revolution… Until now, the driver had to be in control of his vehicle in all circumstances, it was an absolute rule. This will change: Specifically, in the event of an accident, if the car’s autonomous driving system is activated, the “driver” – if we can still call him that – can no longer be held responsible, from the moment he has complied with the terms of use of the software. It is therefore the manufacturer or designer of the software who can be held responsible.

The insurance companies will also adapt to this new situation. Some are starting to develop specific contracts for self-driving cars. This new way of driving, which will consist of delegating driving to a machine while remaining alert, will also be taught in driving schools. France is the first country in Europe to adopt this type of legal framework, although it is currently very restrictive.

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