The autonomously driven future may arrive sooner than expected, following a small but significant change to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, followed by 72 countries.
Article 8 of the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic previously said "every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals".
The new rule says that drivers of fully- or highly-autonomous cars would be permitted to remove their hands from the steering wheel, provided the system "can be overridden or switched off by the driver."
Despite previous predictions that the world would not see autonomous cars on its streets until 2025, the recent push to fast-track the technology by several carmakers could see them arriving in showrooms much sooner.
"Today I am only allowed to take my hands off the wheel to a limited extent. Thankfully the Vienna [UN] Convention on Road Traffic has been changed," Mercedes-Benz development boss Thomas Weber said, speaking with Automotive News Europe.
Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria and France were believed to be behind the push to change the Convention, with German carmakers in particular keen to gauge the market with a view to selling autonomous cars soon.
In August last year, Benz demonstrated that its autonomous technology was advanced enough for an S-Class to complete a 103km pre-set journey with no input from the ‘driver’.
Leading the charge to the autonomously-driven future at present is Google and Volvo (see video, top). Volvo would no doubt welcome the new rules while the carmaker continues with its trial of 100 autonomous cars on Swedish streets, as Sweden is a signatory to the Vienna Convention.
Notable exceptions to the Vienna Convention include China, Japan, the US and Australia.