The federal government should undertake an assessment of the social benefits that would flow from mandating the use of autonomous vehicles, such as self-driving cars, on Australian roads, according to a submission from Telstra to a parliamentary inquiry.
Telstra made the recommendation in its submission (PDF) to a parliamentary inquiry into the role of 'smart ICT' in the design and planning of infrastructure.
The inquiry was announced in May and last week held its first hearing.
Nine out of 10 road accidents are caused by human error and autonomous vehicles could significantly cut the number of deaths on Australian roads each year, Telstra's submission argued.
Autonomous vehicles — or AVs — "therefore have the potential to relieve pressure on the health system to say nothing of other impacts such as the drain on social and emergency services".
"Now that the viability of self-driving cars has been proven, car manufacturers are actively looking to build and market autonomous vehicles," the submission states.
"A flurry of recent announcements would indicate that we can expect the market introduction of fully autonomous vehicles in about 2020, but in the meantime car manufacturers are already progressively introducing key aspects of autonomous vehicles –such as adaptive cruise control, lane assist driving, self-parking, collision-avoidance self-braking systems - into their production vehicles."
It is therefore not unreasonable to expect that during the 2020s, developed countries might set a date by which vehicles must support autonomous operation in order to be registered, Telstra argues.
"By taking such a stance, not only will Australia save the huge societal burden of road accidents, but also could proactively encourage Australian industry to become a leader in the production, installation and operation of aftermarket self-driving kits."
The trials are being staged by road research agency ARRB Group. In addition to Telstra, Volvo and Bosch are supporting the trials, which will coincide with a South Australian conference on driverless vehicles.
The South Australian test drive forms part of ARRB's Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative.
The project envisages a five-stage plan to introduce driverless vehicles to Australian roads. Autonomous vehicles could slash road accidents and help tackle congestion, according to the organisation.
So far the highest profile self-driving vehicle tests have been those conducted by Google though car makers have also been experimenting with the technology.