The Journey of Driverless Vehicles to NSW

Key Points
  • Current law in NSW allows for low to mid-level automation vehicles on our roads, meaning high-level to fully automated vehicles are illegal.
  • A legislative framework would be required for the safe introduction of the technology without stifling innovation.
  • The NSW Government has revealed plans to introduce changes to allow for trials of driverless vehicles on our roads.

The NSW Government has revealed plans to amend legislation to allow for trials of automated vehicles as they plan for industry-led innovation.

The concept of automated, or driverless, vehicles being used on our roads is steadily gaining momentum towards becoming a reality in the not-too-distant future, as industry funnels huge investment into the development of their technology.

This creates huge potential for social and economic benefits to stem from a fully automated road network including improved road safety, increased mobility and reduced congestion. However, as innovation takes the driver’s seat it is crucial regulation keeps up to ensure things are operating safely and legally.

While your family car may provide a degree of automation, such as auto-emergency braking or parking assistance, current Australian law does not allow for highly or fully automated vehicles to operate on a road or road-related area. This is because legislation, regulation and vehicle standards don’t go far enough to allow these vehicles to be registered for use on public roads.

This means legislative amendments are required to open our roads up to fully-automated vehicles, a task which is compounded by many questions including training requirements, liability for crashes, insurance requirements, data protection and privacy, hacking, and scepticism about the power of machines to make moral decisions. Many of the answers will come from effective dialogue with industry and real-life application.

Australia has made sound efforts to avoid the US experience of individual state approaches causing cross-border inconsistencies. Instead, a national legislative and regulatory framework has been prioritised to accommodate automated vehicles. This is being led by national bodies Austroads and the National Transport Commission, and all states are involved in these projects.

However, in order to best formulate a plan for the future, there needs to be informed input from stakeholders to the national projects based on experience and testing in local environments. That makes an interim stage crucial in the process and requires some state-by-state innovation. In response to the Staysafe Committee’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Driverless Vehicles and Road Safety, the NSW Government has revealed plans to amend legislation to enable safe and legal trialling of automated vehicles in the state. More detail is yet to come about what approach will be taken to facilitate the technology.

There is still some work ahead to enable on-road trials and demonstrations of automated and connected vehicles in NSW. Nevertheless, as long as safety is maintained as a paramount consideration, opening the state’s boarders up to industry is an effective way to encourage transport innovation and continued investment in the economy. This means law makers need to be brave to support our road agencies, industry and the market to continue to innovate and help find the pieces to the legal puzzle.

Posted by Ramza Martin and John Kell 

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