No, it’s not the plot of a science fiction movie. Self-driving cars are already being tested on Australian roads. The first demonstration of these automatic vehicles was conducted in October 2018 on the streets of the Adelaide CBD. Cohda Wireless, an Adelaide-based company specialising in V2X (Vehicle to Everything) technology, tested two sedans fitted with software that allowed them to communicate with each other as well as with infrastructure such as traffic lights. The trial successfully demonstrated how the vehicles could communicate with one another to avoid accidents.
Driverless cars legislation
The Queensland Government is also rolling out its Cooperative and Highly Automated Driving program in the coming years across the state so that roads and drivers are equipped to support the wholesale introduction of autonomous vehicles. Most recently, Queensland’s first driverless bus hit the road on Karragarra Island in the Moreton Bay Region for a six-month trial.
More trials of the innovative new vehicles are expected to follow. But are they safe? And when can car buyers expect them to arrive on the market? We explore the driverless cars legislation and the basics of what you need to know about this new phase in technology.
How will driverless cars in Australia work?
While exact technologies vary between different manufacturers who often keep their specifics a closely guarded secret, most self-driving cars have three key features:
- In-built GPS so you can program the car to take you where you want to go.
- Sophisticated detection technology such as LADAR (lasers used to measure distance), cameras and radar.
- On-board computers designed to analyse vast amounts of information on the go.
Can I buy one?
Currently Australian laws lack the necessary terminology to address self-driving cars. However, new driverless cars legislation is set to change that. The National Transport Commission’s policy paper Changing driving laws to support driverless cars in Australia a new nation-wide policy for driverless vehicles set to be in place by 2020: Read the policy here
Currently there are over 700 laws preventing driverless cars from being on the road in Australia.
Despite that, the current pace of both the technology and the driverless cars legislation mean that driverless cars might find their way onto Australian roads as early as between 2020 and 2030.
Are they safe?
Driverless cars are designed to be safer than vehicles driven by people. Up to 90% of road fatalities are caused by human error, and many see driverless cars as a way to effectively address this. A number of companies working on the technology, including Google, are programming their vehicles not to take an action such as changing lanes or braking unless there’s zero chance of it resulting in an accident. So long as the technology works as intended, driverless cars will be much safer than vehicles controlled by motorists.
Driverless cars have a number of advantages:
- Better safety due to car’s superior ability to identify hazards.
- Will eliminate dangers such as drowsy or drunk driving.
- Better fuel efficiency.
- Decreased traffic.
- Independence for elderly and disabled drivers.
Driverless Cars Legislation
While autonomous vehicles seem extremely beneficial and will likely address a gap in transportation needs for many Australians, the legal framework needs to be considered. The current legislation with respect to liability for injury, and even contravention of road rules, refers to terms such as “driver” and “control”. It’s yet to be tested who is considered to be the “driver” of an automated vehicle, and who has “control” and would current legislation and compulsory third party insurance cover for liability if an injury arises as a result of operation of an automated vehicle.
It’s necessary for the government to not only address the aspects related to infrastructure for rolling out autonomous vehicles but to also consider the necessary legislative changes to ensure injured persons rights are protected.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: December 3, 2019.