The 1949 Geneva Convention You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

by Kenneth Anderson

It’s the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (text at p. 3 of pdf; here’s the UN treaty collection history, signatories, reservations, etc.; here is the Wikisource text of the treaty, which on quick read is accurate) which seeks to promote road safety by establishing uniform rules across borders.  This includes provisions for an international driving permit as well as for cross border recognition of foreign drivers licenses (Florida got itself into problems earlier in 2013 when it issued new regulations requiring foreign drivers, including Canadians, to hold a valid international driving permit; it quickly reversed course). There are later treaties, particularly the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which replaces the 1949 Geneva Convention for contracting states, but it has only 70 ratifications, and the US is not among them, though it is party to the 1949 agreement.

The 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic as well as later agreements on automobiles, licensing, road rules, etc., are probably going to come under greater scrutiny in the next few years on account of the rise of autonomous, self-driving vehicles – the famous Google cars.  As Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society notes in a report last November, “Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in the United States,” the 1949 convention provides, at Article 8, that every vehicle have a driver who is “at all times … able to control” it.  Smith says in the report that this requirement is likely satisfied if a human is “on the loop” – i.e., able to intervene in the automated vehicle’s operation.  That will likely work as a solution for some period, but the real value of autonomous cars is supposed to eventually be, not when they have a driver ready, alert, and able to take the wheel from the computer, but instead when they are transporting people who can’t or shouldn’t drive: the elderly and infirm, children, and … inebriated undergraduates.

Comments are closed.