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13 May 2016

Australia’s laws are ‘not ready for driverless vehicles’

First publishedon www.ITSInternational.com
Australia’s National Transport Commission (NTC) has released Regulatory Options for Automated Vehicles, a discussion paper that finds a number of legislative barriers to increasing vehicle automation.

The paper proposes that there are barriers that need to be addressed as soon as possible to ensure clarity around the status of more automated vehicles on Australia’s roads and to support further trials.  In the longer term other legislative barriers will need to be addressed to allow fully driverless vehicles in the future.

The discussion paper builds upon the issues paper released by the NTC in February 2016 and the 32 submissions made by stakeholders.

According to NTC, some of the questions that will need to be resolved include: How can governments enable on-road trials of automated vehicles nationally?; How can governments help clarify who is controlling a vehicle when the human driver is not driving? Or when control can alternate between a human and an automated driving system?; How should the requirement that a driver must have proper control of a vehicle be interpreted by police when there is no human driver?; What should happen to the range of laws that put obligations on a human driver of a vehicle such as rendering assistance after a crash, complying with directions from police or paying any tolls or fines incurred.

It is also not clear whether people injured in a crash with an automated vehicle will always be able to claim insurance under compulsory third party insurance or state-based accident compensation schemes.

“Australia’s laws need to be ready for the biggest change to our transport system since cars replaced horses,” said Paul Retter, NTC commissioner and chief executive. “Amending these laws shouldn’t be hard, but making sure the new laws are nationally consistent and encourage innovation while ensuring the safety of all road users will be important.”

Retter said Australian governments must ensure that the removal of these barriers and any new requirements were implemented in a logical sequence, in step with the commercial deployment of different automated vehicles. He said there were risks in trying to rush ahead and amend vehicle standards for fully automated vehicles (such as driverless pods) without first addressing existing barriers to the types of automated vehicles that we are likely to be see on our roads in the near future. Automated vehicles that share the driving task with humans are expected to be available in Australia within the next few years. As such the NTC is keen to hear views from all parts of industry and the community about the timing, as well as the detail of any reforms.

Retter called on interested parties to make a submission to help ensure Australia reaps the full benefits of automated vehicles as soon as possible. Submissions can be made at www.ntc.gov.au between now and 4 July 2016.The NTC will analyse these submissions when making final recommendations to Australia’s transport ministers for their scheduled meeting in November 2016.
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