‘EU legislation key for Belgium transit-land’

March 15, 2016 320 keer bekeken

‘In Belgium we are looking into ways of creating a framework for the admission of autonomous vehicles to public roads. At the strategic and legal levels, we need to check on the rules to be drafted and implemented. And in operational terms, how can these vehicles be allowed on the road - safely?’

Says David Schoenmaekers, attaché policy unit, DG Transport and Road Safety, Belgian Transport Authority. ‘An Autonomous Vehicles working party was set up in spring 2015; this also involved the other competent governmentals (the three regions), and private sector parties. ITS Belgium and the Belgian Institute for Traffic safety were also associated here. The basic question remains “How do we move a step forward with autonomous vehicles?”. Belgium already offers plenty of potential for ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’. But when it comes to going operational with autonomous vehicles we want to stay in line with international legislation, while boosting technological innovation, given the massive social potential for aspects including traffic safety and the environment.’

More than mere words

‘To this end we have developed a code of conduct. This represents robust guidelines and a ‘road-tested’ strategy on how we, in Belgium, can organise this in technical terms. This needs more than mere words. At the end of the day you need a way to conduct practical tests.’

‘And then, in October 2015, came the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux. We were there, and when Dirk-Jan de Bruijn, programme director of the EU Truck Platooning Challenge 2016, asked if the Belgian government would join in with the kick-off of the initiative, we were all ears. At the same time, we were somewhat surprised as the routes would be developed gradually, as the process moved forward. This initiative was to be developed bottom-up, in conjunction with all willing partners.’

Serious test case

‘In fact, we were interested right from the start. We already had the working party and Jacqueline Galant, our federal minister for Mobility had drafted an initial policy document with a view to the testing of autonomous vehicles. For Belgium, involvement in the Challenge represented the first serious test case.’

‘Home again from Bordeaux we made a determined start by getting the partners together. The Belgian regional administrations also needed to commit, after all, they are the road authorities and ‘their roads’ would be used.’

Traffic safety

‘As far as the Belgian government was concerned, traffic safety would be a crucial aspect of the Challenge, and there had been some doubts on this. The roads in Belgium and the Netherlands are busy to say the least, with many, many, exit and access points. We were concerned about this and it was the most important point in approving requests.’

European legislation and regulation essential

‘All the same, right from the start we were enthusiastic about this initiative. What is positive, is that all important partners from the public and private sectors, OEMs and test organisations were involved in the experiment from day one. Another positive aspect was that the Challenge created concrete test potential for autonomous vehicles. Also important was the fact that we could operate cross border – with an eye to the technology, which had to be interoperable, and for road traffic. Self-evidently we are looking for legislative solutions to allow autonomous vehicles on public roads. Ideally, these solutions will not be confined to Belgium, and we want to see them developed through European institutions. Belgium is a transit-land par excellence, with many foreign hauliers resulting in thru-traffic. This is an area where, in principle, European legislation and regulation are essential. That’s why this test, this Challenge, is so important for us. For the first time ever, we can test autonomous vehicles on public roads.’