Australia’s transport ministers have agreed to take a uniform legal approach across states and territories to vehicles equipped with automated driving systems.
The Transport and Infrastructure Council, which brings together infrastructure and transport ministers, earlier this month signed off on a policy paper developed by the National Transport Commission that sets a 2020 target for implementing end-to-end regulation to deal with autonomous vehicles.
“The key problem to be resolved through this reform is that Australian transport law assumes there is a human driver,” the paper states.
Currently, Australian laws don’t envisage a situation in which an autonomous driving system is controlling a vehicle.
“Obligations relating to driving and road safety through complying with traffic laws are placed on a human driver, and the human driver is responsible for the consequences of noncompliance,” the paper states.
The NTC’s proposals aim to ensure the intent of transport laws is maintained when it comes to safety, but that barriers to the use of automated driving systems are removed.
“With automated vehicles, there will be times when an ‘automated driving system’, rather than a human, will be in control of the vehicle. We need a nationally consistent law to know who is in control of a motor vehicle at any point in time,” NTC CEO Paul Retter explained.
“Without a change to existing laws or new law, there would be no-one to hold responsible for compliance with our road rules when an automated driving system is in control of a vehicle.”
The NTC made 11 recommendations for the development of purpose-built national law to deal with autonomous vehicle technology, including clarifying who the responsible entity is at various levels of automation and the obligations of autonomous driving systems and of the users of autonomous vehicles.
“This is a considerable change to national road transport laws, to support the significant changes we see coming in transport technology,” Retter said.
Earlier this year a report from the Transport Certification Australia (TCA) examined the challenges of building a secure national ecosystem for the rollout of cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS), which can include vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-person communications.
Australia has already hosted a range of trials of autonomous vehicle technology.
The full NTC policy paper is available online (PDF).