The Spanish Road Transport Authority (DGT) has recently proposed a bill to regulate the use and circulation of autonomous vehicles for the first time in Spain. This proposed bill shows Spain's efforts to promote a safe use of automated driving vehicles on public roads and highlights its ambitions to become a hub for autonomous vehicles in Europe.

The road to autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are generally defined as vehicles equipped with systems capable of automated driving without human input. They promise to reshape the way we transport people and goods, to make roads safer and reduce traffic congestion.

Autonomous vehicles are not currently specifically regulated in Spain, and testing levels of 3, 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles on public roads must be authorised by the government. In this regard, the DGT Instruction 15/V-113 dated 23 November 2015 sets out an authorisation regime for the testing of automated vehicles that incorporate automation levels 3 to 5 on public roads.

As part of its 2030 Road Safety Strategy, Spain aims to update its legislation and position itself as a hub for autonomous vehicles in Europe. In this context, the proposed bill will, in the form of a Royal Decree, set out Spain's first legal framework to regulate autonomous vehicles, laying down the conditions and requirements for the operation of such vehicles.

Proposed changes to legislation

The conventional public road traffic and safety is currently regulated under the Road Traffic and Vehicle Regulations in Spain. The proposed bill will amend each of these Regulations:

  1. The Spanish Road Traffic Regulation

The bill will amend the Road Traffic Regulation to set out the conditions and requirements for the operation of autonomous vehicles. The autonomous driving system will also be considered the “driver” of the vehicle when in autonomous driving mode.

Additionally, a new annex setting out the conditions for the operation of autonomous vehicles has been introduced. Accordingly, such vehicles will need to comply with a number of technical requirements, among other things, and obtain an administrative authorisation in accordance with the Spanish Vehicle Regulation (as further discussed below).

The annex also states that the Central Traffic Department will issue a Safe Driving Policy to set out the requirements for the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

       2. The Spanish Vehicle Regulation

The Spanish Vehicle Regulation will also be amended to set forth a number of requirements in relation to automated vehicles. These requirements include:

  • the operation of autonomous vehicles will be subject to a driving permit issued by the Central Traffic Department and an administrative authorisation to assess the technical suitability of autonomous vehicles;
  • data relating to the capacities and characteristics of the automated driving system will need to be included in the public register of vehicles; 
  • autonomous vehicles will be required to meet a number of technical requirements, such as adhering to traffic rules and having an accident prevention system; and
  • new functionalities implemented in the automated system will need to be reported to the authority within 48 hours.

Navigating the future of autonomous vehicles

The draft bill will be open for public consultation until 15 April 2024. The DGT anticipates the approval of the bill in 2024.

The proposed Spanish Royal Decree comes at a moment when the EU has been adopting other laws that will have a significant impact on the automotive sector. For example, the upcoming EU AI Act will regulate the use of AI systems, which are crucial for sensing, decision-making and predictive modelling in autonomous vehicles.

Similarly, the Data Act, which entered into force last month, governs how data generated by connected vehicles is shared between drivers and carmakers. Such data may also be used to improve road safety and traffic management as well as enable sustainable innovation.

Autonomous vehicles are a reality and have the potential to transform mobility and safety, making our cities more efficient and sustainable. However, updating existing road safety laws to regulate autonomous vehicles is a complex task. Accordingly, Spain will need to ensure that its proposed legal framework to govern autonomous vehicles is not only innovative but also ensures public safety and addresses liability issues in a satisfactory manner.