The last post showed that autonomous vehicle users in all likelihood will not need a license anymore. The reason for this is that it would significantly decrease the usability of an autonomous vehicle if the legislator requested such driver’s licenses. In addition, it would be in conflict with the basic idea of autonomous driving – to make individual motorized mobility available for (almost) the entire community.
Thus, it can be assumed that there will be no standard of a driver’s license or any other test imposed by the administration to allow the use of autonomous cars. There will still be some regulation apart from driver’s licenses which users of autonomous vehicles will have to take into consideration.
An important legal issue will be the use of autonomous vehicles by children and teenagers.
The first thing to recognize is the following: There is a big application area for self-driving cars in the context of transportation of minors. Parents send their children to kindergartens or schools on working days. Even though there are short range public transportation services in most cities, not everybody uses them.
After school children usually visit sport clubs, music schools or friends. It is not unusual for minors to travel long distances for these activities. But not every town offers public transportation services, especially in non-urban areas.
In these cases, the parents, grandparents or siblings have to act as “taxi driver” for the minors. This huge driving service could be taken over by autonomous vehicles. By using a self-driving car, the parent taking care of the children would save a lot of time which he could use for his own job or simply for his free time. The benefits for the community are obvious.
Are children allowed to travel on their own when using autonomous vehicles?
But in the context of children there is one main legal question: How old must the child or teenager be in order to travel by this new type of vehicle on his own? With this question, the problem arises whether and if so, how parents are liable for a violation of their duty of responsibility.
There is both good news and bad news for parents. The good news first: If one thinks about his child riding a bike, taking the bus, going by train or traveling by plane, there are already a lot of cases which require the parent or parents to make a decision on whether to allow his child to travel on his own. Best practice solutions in the aforementioned scenarios can probably be transferred to autonomous driving.
What kind of laws apply to children using the autonomous vehicle?
However, the bad news is: There is no straight answer. Indeed family law is a part of the German Civil Code and § 1626 of the German Civil Code rules that parents have the obligation of parental care, but there is no rule applicable directly to the use of transportation services by children. In general, the law wants to protect children against any type of harm. Therefore, it directs this responsibility to their parents.
Within the German Civil Code, there are further regulations which might give some indication regarding the use of autonomous vehicles by children. For example, §§ 104 et seqq. of the German Civil Code state that children under the age of 7 years are not legally competent, and children between 6 and 18 years of age are presumed legally competent only to a limited extent.
As a consequence, minors cannot enter into legally binding contracts by their own. However, there is one exception in § 110 of the German Civil Code – nicknamed the “pocket-money-paragraph” – which states that children can enter into a contract if they can fully satisfy their contractual obligations merely by spending the pocket money they have received from their parents for their free use.
But, the aforementioned paragraphs concern contract law and not the use of vehicles. They can only give us a general indication. In the same manner parents grant pocket money to their child, they could give the child the opportunity to use an autonomous car if they consider their child to be able to handle the use. Therefore, it depends on the personal abilities of the child and how the parents assess it.
Furthermore, § 832 of the German Civil Code gives us more information. It specifies the liability of parents for violating their responsibility regarding the safety of their children. If the parents allow their child to use a self-driving car, they could be held responsible for endangerment of the child. In the context of § 832 of the German Civil Code, the courts have ruled on the question of when a violation is present.
In general, the parents fulfil their responsibility if they do everything necessary to ensure the safety of their child with regard to the specific circumstances of the individual case and the age, character and nature of the child. Consequently, parents have to make an individual decision for every single case of the use of transportation systems by their child. This could be applied to autonomous vehicle cases accordingly.
Finally, it is likely that children could use self-driving cars even before turning 18 years old. However, the minimum age could vary because it depends on the respective child’s abilities and maturity. The parents have to make the decision in light of their potential liability for neglecting the responsibility for their child in mind.
Would you allow a self-driving car to take your child to school? If yes, share your reasons in our comment section
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.