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Legal Aspects of Autonomous Vehicles - Turkey


As autonomous vehicles have become increasingly prevalent around the world, the need for legal regulations became inevitable. Autonomous vehicles represent a highly compelling illustration of mobility-driven digitalization, highlighting the importance of ensuring they are subject to appropriate governance and standards.


Although there is a lack of detailed regulation in Turkey regarding the autonomous vehicles, the Regulation EU/2019/2144 defines autonomous vehicles as "a motor vehicle designed and manufactured to move autonomously for a certain period of time without the continuous control of the driver, but where driver intervention is still expected or required"; and fully autonomous vehicles as "motor vehicles designed and manufactured to move autonomously without any driver control".


Furthermore, the Turkish Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure’s 2053 Transport and Logistics Master Plan highlights the necessity of conducting harmonization and legislative research on next-generation mobility systems, including self-driving vehicles. This indicates the forthcoming establishment of in-depth regulations in this area.


Autonomous Vehicle Levels

Although there is currently no classification established in Turkish legislation regarding the autonomous vehicles, the Society of Automotive Engineers (“SAE”) of the United States has created a classification based on autonomous vehicle characteristics, which has been accepted both by the US Department of Transportation and internationally. The SAE classification and the vehicle characteristics within are outlined below:


  • Level 0: There is no active automation.

  • Level 1: This is the lowest level of automation, where the driver performs vehicle acceleration, braking, and steering maneuvers. The system does, however, include features such as cruise control and distance control.

  • Level 2: In this automated system, the vehicle has the ability to control both steering and acceleration. However, it is important to note that unlike fully autonomous driving, a driver must be present at the wheel and able to take control of the vehicle at any given time, performing all necessary functions.

  • Level 3: Vehicles at this level possess the capacity for environmental perception. This signifies their ability to execute conscious decisions such as acceleration and deceleration. However, the driver must still actively engage in driving and be prepared to maneuver in the event of the vehicle's inability to perform the required maneuver autonomously.

  • Level 4: The main difference between vehicles at this level and those at Level 3 is that they can intervene in the event of a mishap or system failure. Vehicles at this level can operate in self-driving mode and in most cases do not require human interaction. However, depending on the legislation and infrastructure of the relevant country, these vehicles can currently be used under certain conditions. In addition, the driver can take control of the vehicle by manually overriding all of these functions.

  • Level 5: Vehicles at this level have eliminated the dynamic driving task and do not require human intervention.


European Union Regulations on Autonomous Vehicles

On 6 July 2022, the European Union has included technical requirements for autonomous vehicles within the scope of the General Vehicle Safety Regulation ("EU Safety Regulation"), which is a framework regulation for autonomous vehicles. However, while it regulates the technical specifications of autonomous vehicles, such as signaling, steering, acceleration, and braking systems, it does not address issues such as the liability regime in the event of an accident or how personal data collected during the use of autonomous vehicles will be processed.


It should be noted that there is no regulation in the European Union regarding the liability regime in the event of an accident involving fully autonomous vehicles. However, the liability regime may vary according to the national laws of the Member States. To provide an example, under German legislation, liability for the operation of autonomous vehicles is shared between the owner and the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle. The vehicle owner is responsible for the safety and maintenance of the autonomous vehicle, whereas the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for the safety of the electronic and digital architecture.


Regarding the cybersecurity of the electronic and digital architecture of autonomous vehicles, the Network and Information Security Directive is enforced. Furthermore, the rules governing the protection of personal data in the operation of autonomous vehicles are being assessed under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation ("GDPR").


Turkish Regulations on Autonomous Vehicles

As mentioned above, there is not yet a regulation that fully regulates autonomous vehicles in Turkey. The autonomous vehicles are defined and the technical specifications of the systems in autonomous vehicles are regulated under the Regulation EU/2019/2144 and the aim for this regulation is to harmonize the autonomous vehicles’ technical specifications and approvals with the European Union legislation. Therefore, it can be expected that Turkey, which closely follows the European Union legislation, will introduce more detailed regulations on autonomous vehicles in the future.


The absence of a regulatory framework prompts the inquiry into how to effectively assess the responsibilities of both drivers and vehicles.


Currently, the responsibility regimes of autonomous vehicles regarding traffic accidents are assessed in accordance with the existing Highway Traffic Law No. 2918 ("Traffic Law"). The Traffic Law stipulates that the responsibility for incidents occurring in traffic falls on the driver. Moreover, it regulates the driver’s liability due to damages resulting from its operation. Thus, the driver bears both civil and criminal liability for any damage resulting from operating a motor vehicle. Due to the absence of framework legislation for autonomous vehicles, the responsibility regime for such vehicles would be subject to the Traffic Law as well. Therefore, even if the vehicle is equipped with autonomous technology, the driver responsible for operating it will be held accountable for any damages resulting from its use.


Another concern arising from the use of autonomous vehicles relates to personal data protection. Autonomous vehicles perform environmental sensing to execute necessary maneuvers and generate motion data. While conducting environmental sensing, GPS, sensors, and video cameras process abundant personal data within and beyond the vehicle, including images of people and locations, as well as occasional audial data.


In order to ensure the protection of personal data, determining the data controller and requirements to obtain consent from third parties while processing such data becomes crucial. While the GDPR continues to be implemented in Europe, until a specific legislation is regulated, for personal data processed related to the autonomous vehicle in Turkey, the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Law No. 6698 will be applied.


Conclusion

Given the current regulations in Turkey, autonomous vehicles deemed to share the same legal and criminal liability as other vehicles. Despite the lack of specific regulations on autonomous vehicles in Turkey, it is anticipated that new regulations will be established to identify potential risks arising from their widespread use worldwide.


Authors: Burak Özdağıstanli, Sümeyye Uçar, Begüm Alara Şahinkaya, Ebru Gümüş

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