“Automated vehicles are far from science fiction, but rather a short-term reality that Australia needs to be prepared for.” – Gerald Waldron, ARRB Group MD
According to the RACV, in the next 24 hours almost 5000 Australians will be involved in a road accident. More than 500 of these road users will be injured and four will die.
Around 30,000 people are seriously injured each year from road accidents in Australia. The “hidden toll” of people who are hospitalised, and others who suffer long recovery periods or even permanent injuries, is very real.
While all individual state and territory governments have on-going road safety strategies in place, they are also partners with the Commonwealth in a national three-year Action Plan to improve the safety of Australia’s road transport system.
At the same time, some observers suggest that removing the reliance on human behaviour with driverless cars could help reduce the number road accidents and fatalities, not only in Australia but worldwide.
It’s a known fact that about 90 per cent of all crashes are the result of driver error, so it is easy to understand why this concept is gaining traction with some media commentators and industry observers.
While autonomous vehicles could help the elderly and disabled remain independent, there are some things that even a fail-proof computer can’t prevent, such as a drunken pedestrian, extreme weather, unexpected road users such as ridden horses, problematic terrain, complex road rules and road construction sites.
A white paper published by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute on the safety of autonomous cars, warns that after the introduction of driverless cars the interaction between driverless cars and manual cars could prove to be problematic.
“In many current situations, interacting drivers of conventional vehicles make eye contact and proceed according to the feedback received from other drivers. Such feedback would be absent in interactions with self-driving vehicles,” the authors said.
“The expectation of zero fatalities with self-driving vehicles is not realistic. It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced middle-aged driver.”
Driverless cars may never be perfect but unlike us humans they’ll never be drunk, tired, stressed or aggressive.
Overall, many Australians have a positive attitude towards driverless cars as evidenced by the survey results published in the UMTRI Survey*.
When asked “What is your general opinion regarding autonomous and self-driving vehicles?”, 61.9 per cent had a positive view, 26.7 per cent were neutral and 11.3 per cent responded in the negative.
When respondents were asked: “How concerned would you be about driving or riding in a vehicle with self-driving technology?”, 16 per cent were very concerned, 37.2 were moderately concerned, 34.5 per cent were slightly concerned, and 12.3 percent were not at all concerned.
People’s negativity may change once the results are released of the first ever on-road trials of driverless cars in the Southern Hemisphere, to be held in Adelaide in November.
Volvo will bring a fully-automated Volvo XC90 that is being used in the ‘Drive Me’ project in Sweden, to assess how the technology needs to be modified to integrate with Australian driving behaviour, climate and road conditions.
The XC90 will be tested on a closed section of Adelaide’s Southern Expressway in real-life driving scenarios with other vehicles such as changing lanes, emergency braking, and using the on and off ramps.
In addition to Volvo and the independent road research body ARRB Group, partners in the trial include Flinders University, Carnegie Mellon University, the RAA, Telstra, Cohda Wireless, and Bosch.
Stephen Mulligan, SA’s Transport Minister, said the trial would be the precursor to laws being passed that would allow driverless cars on SA’s roads by 2025.
The legislation would be based on similar laws in US, Britain and Sweden.
Gerald Waldron, Managing Director of the Australian Road Research Board Group (ARRB) said recently: “Driverless cars have a range of benefits that could significantly improve road safety and the quality of life of everyday Australians, add to the nation’s economic competitiveness and help relieve rapidly growing congestion that is crippling our infrastructure and creating productivity deficits in our capital cities.”