Autonomous Driving: By All that is Right and Fair
Driverless cars are coming soon. However, those who will use autonomous vehicles - as well as those currently developing this cutting-edge technology - require both legal certainty and legal parameters. In particular, road traffic laws must address questions of culpability in the event of an accident and these questions must be answered in a legally sound manner. As part of the interdisciplinary LIT project AUD/A, Dr. Karin Bruckmüller and Assist. Prof. Dr. Stefan Schumann work together with engineers to find solutions to support technological advancements while at the same time providing as much legal certainty as possible for practitioners, clearly defining where risk (criminal) liability lies, and how it can be avoided.
When describing self-driving cars, there are five standardized levels representing different degrees of a vehicle’s autonomy. When at Level 5, the vehicle is autonomous and there is no human involvement. Technology used in general traffic today is currently at Level 2.
The legal status quo is that there are legal provisions when it comes to testing self-driving cars in Austria, "…but they are very cryptic and insufficient in regards to excluding criminal responsibility using highly automated vehicles," says Karin Bruckmüller.
When talking about criminal liability, there must be clear definitions in regards to "standard of care" in order to ultimately clarify the question of guilt. Under current traffic regulations, each driver is subject to the objective due duty of care which presupposes the driver is a "reasonable and sensible person".
But who is considered the driver when it comes to driverless vehicles? The person sitting in the vehicle? The software engineers who programmed the vehicle? The on-board computer?
When it comes to programming, ethical issues also need to be taken into account: If a vehicle is traveling and encounters a situation where the car will hit either a group of adults or a child, what will the decision be? In this case, how should engineers programming the vehicle set the algorithm?
Schumann added, “We want to work together with engineers and as part of an international comparison for the development of autonomous driving standards that will initially apply in Austria but can later be extended to other countries.” After talking with many engineers currently involved in working and conducting research in this area, Bruckmüller and Schumann realize they need to create more awareness in understanding that contracts with cooperating companies offer civil protection but do not rule out criminal prosecution.
As part of their project, Bruckmüller and Schumann collaborate with, among others, computer scientists and mechatronics scientists at the JKU, the University of Sapporo (Japan), the LMU Munich, are closely connected with the Business Upper Austria - Upper Austrian Business Agency Ltd., as well as with other companies such as CARHS (Alzenau) and Mayflower (Munich).
Dr. Karin Bruckmüller is at the JKU at the Institute for Criminal Law as well as at the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich at the Institute for Criminal Law and Legal Philosophy as project manager and a habilitation candidate.
Her research focuses in the area of medical (criminal) law, medical ethics, juvenile criminal law and victim and defendants' rights. She works primarily in comparative law and incorporates ethics in her research.
As an expert, Bruckmüller is in demand all over the world and for many years was, among other things, a member of working groups for NGOs, the EU, and the United Nations; at the latter, she was also active as an NGO representative as well as a keynote speaker at the UN Crime Commission.
In 2015, Dr. Karin Bruckmüller was presented with the Upper Austrian Researcher Award.
After completing his training as an electrician, Assist. Prof. Dr. Stefan Schumann chose to pursue a legal career and has worked at universities in Germany and Austria in the area of criminal and European law. He is a habilitation candidate at the Institute of Criminal Law, Department of Corporate Criminal Law and Criminal Law Practice at the JKU and a practicing attorney (RAK Munich).
His areas of specialization include commercial and corporate criminal law, defendants’ rights, legal aid and comparative law.
Schumann works regularly for international organizations as an expert, including the EU and the UN. He is Counsel of the International Section at the Academy of Criminal Justice Science and was a visiting professor at the universities of Pristina and Prizren.