Australia lagging on autonomous vehicle initiatives: Telstra

Telstra wants govt to boost autonomous vehicle uptake

Telstra says the government should implement policies that promote the uptake of autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies, warning that compared to Europe and North America, Australia is lagging when it comes to initiatives involving connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV).

Australia “has the opportunity to take a leading role both regionally and globally in CAV enabling technology,” the telco has argued in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the social impact of land-based driverless vehicles.

“Policies and incentives are urgently required to facilitate trials, gain community acceptance and to adapt the legal and regulatory framework to support and accelerate the introduction of AVs into Australia.”

Telstra has previously argued that in the future, the government should even consider mandating the use of autonomous vehicles.

The company believes that autonomous vehicles can potentially boost road safety, cut traffic congestion and emissions, increase mobility for people unable to drive due to age or other reasons, and help create new jobs and business models.

The telco said that alleviating public concerns, including over security, safety and privacy, will be a key role for government. “There is a role for Government in educating the public on the benefits of CAVs, and in facilitating pilots so that the public can gain acceptance,” it argued.

Telstra said it backed principles outlined in the Transport and Infrastructure Council’s (TIC) National Policy Framework for Land Transport Technology, which was released in August last year.

That document outlined four key roles for Australia’s state and federal governments:

• Providing policy leadership, including a nationally coordinated approach across different levels of government; facilitating collaboration between industry and researchers; raising public awareness and acceptance; and managing the transitions between old and new technologies.

• “Enabling”, including by supporting investment in digital infrastructure and/or data streams and offering open access to transport data.

• Creating a supportive regulatory environment, including ensuring that community expectations around safety and privacy are met, removing regulatory barriers and where possible providing certainty about future regulatory requirements.

• And investment in R&D and real-world trials.

The TIC document also included seven principles for government action, including evidence-based investment, avoiding favouring particular technologies or applications, and favouring where possible low-cost approaches to regulation such as collaborative agreements or self-regulation.

“We fully agree with, and support these principles,” Telstra’s submission states.

“It is our view that these principles will serve to ensure the best outcomes for the community and for businesses choosing to invest in AVs. It is our view that the policy principles could have benefitted from one additional element; namely fostering collaboration between business/industry, government and the community, which could help to accelerate the introduction of AVs in Australia.”

The telco is a member of the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI), which has staged on-road trials of self-driving cars. Telstra has backed a truck platooning initiative in Western Australia and participated in connected vehicle trials.

In October, Telstra revealed details its work with Cohda Wireless to conduct a trial of ‘vehicle to infrastructure’ (V2I) communications using the telco’s 4G network.

Read more: Telstra Health to roll out WA health information system

“Governments, industry, businesses and the community have the opportunity to catalyse the emergence of new mobility systems and this should be done through cross-sector collaboration (transport, telecommunications, and universities/research sector) and partnership,” Telstra argued.

“The Australian geography and environment lends itself to being the perfect test bed for such technologies, but Australia is currently lagging globally, and policies and incentives are urgently required.”

Toyota in a submission to the inquiry said it backed a national guidelines and a single application process for organisations that wish to undertake trials of automated vehicles.

“In addition, Toyota fully supports cross-border cooperation within state and territory road transport agencies primarily because most automotive and technology industries see Australia as a single market for investment and innovation,” the car-maker said.

Toyota also said that legislated definitions around driver, driving, control and proper control should be based on globally harmonised definitions. The UN’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations and the Working Party on Road Traffic Safety are currently discussing key definitions relating to autonomous vehicles.

The full submissions are available from the inquiry's home page.

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