NSW inquiry calls for national approach to driverless cars

Staysafe committee calls for effort to avoid patchwork regulation

The RAC Intellibus

The RAC Intellibus

Automated vehicle technology has the potential to reduce death and injuries on New South Wales roads that result from factors such as driver fatigue, driver distraction, speed and inexperience, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has found.

“Improvements to road safety are expected from reducing or removing human control over road vehicles,” the Staysafe committee's report states. “By replacing human control with automated technology, driver error and risk taking behaviour are removed.”

Last year South Australia was the site of the first southern hemisphere tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads, with that state’s parliament introducing laws to make the trials possible. SA’s premier has said he sees the state as a potential testbed for driverless cars. In August, Perth became the site of an on-road trial of a fully driverless shuttle bus, the RAC Intellibus.

The NSW inquiry into driverless vehicles and road safety has recommended the development a national regulatory framework to “maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of automated vehicle technology”.

The Staysafe committee in February launched the inquiry. Its report recommends that the National Transport Commission work on a regulatory framework for the development and deployment of automated vehicles, in consultation with the states.

That framework would include a national trialling and testing regime; the development of agreed benchmarks for safety and performance standards; and a determination of the liabilities involved in the manufacture, sale and use of autonomous vehicle technology.

It would also include public education and an examination of the security and privacy protections of systems underpinning the technology.

The major risk of a state-based regulatory framework is fragmentation, the committee’s report argued. “Just as state-based railway gauges in the 19th century held back interstate travel and trade, and national economic development, state-based regulatory frameworks have the potential to foster incompatible technological and regulatory development. An outcome which saw the application of some technologies limited to certain states would not be in the best interests of manufacturers, vehicle and road users, or the wider community.

“Australia is only a middle-sized player internationally, so it is important to ensure we can present a strong and united face if we are to influence technological developments where we need to in our national interests. State-based approaches will diminish this possibility.”

Last year a federal parliamentary committee recommended that the Commonwealth, through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), work to ensure the harmonisation “of emerging federal, state and territory legislation and regulations designed to deal with the arrival of autonomous vehicles and driving systems”.

The full report of the NSW inquiry is available online (PDF).

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