The National Transport Commission (NTC) has issued a discussion paper seeking clarification of what is required for automated road and rail vehicles to legally operate across Australia.

The paper is based on a review the NTC conducted into the existing regulatory framework in Australia that might apply to the introduction of automated road and rail vehicles.

The NTC is seeking  clarification on the key issues for road vehicles in relation to:

  • clarity over control of the vehicle and compliance with traffic laws
  • vehicle standards and safety assurance
  • liability and responsibility for the actions of an automated vehicle, and
  • data access and privacy protection – including access for enforcement purposes.

The NTC is an independent statutory body established to develop and submit law reform recommendations to a council of federal and state transport, infrastructure and planning ministers, known as the Transport and Infrastructure Council.

The objective of the NTC’s review was to identify any existing laws or regulations that are unnecessary, in need of reform, or operate as barriers to the safe introduction of automated road vehicles.

The review also considered existing laws and regulations applying to vehicle safety, driver training, licensing, vehicle registration and vehicle ownership.

The context for the review was what the NTC regards as the disruptive impact of increasing but diverging manufacturing trends toward automated driving controls in circumstances where Australian road rules assume that drivers are human and use their own judgement, not automated technology, to drive their road vehicles.

Motor vehicle manufacturers are already introducing automated vehicles in markets around the world and testing has commenced in Australia. The NTC asked stakeholders to consider the following questions:

  • what are automated vehicles?
  • regulatory role of Government
  • issues with regulating the driver
  • issues with regulating the road vehicle
  • liability – drivers, manufacturers, service providers and road managers
  • privacy and access to data
  • issues relating to on-road trials, and
  • other issues.

Automated vehicles

The NTC regards automated road vehicles as ones that that have some level of system automation that do not require a human driver for at least part of the driving task.

Automated vehicles are anticipated to use a range of technologies. These could include on-board vehicle sensors such as radar, ultrasound, laser and optical technology, in addition to satellite position receivers combined with accurate mapping, communications, and cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS) technology.

C-ITS refers to a subset of intelligent transport systems in which different elements of the transport network – vehicles, roads, infrastructure – share information with each other by broadcasting signals. Shared information on conditions, incidents and traffic enables the coordination of vehicle movement and the avoidance of collisions.

AADA agrees with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) and the NTC that Australia should adopt an International Standard of definitions rather than develop our own unique definitions of automation.

Regulatory role of Government

The Australian Government, States and Territories have a significant role to play in the development of a safe regulatory environment. AADA supports consistency across all jurisdictions in Australia and the adoption of relevant overseas standards. An area of concern is the need to allocate a ‘spectrum’ to operate C-ITS in line with vehicles imported from countries with a different bandwidth.

Regulating the driver and road vehicle

Regulating the driver is the degree of control of the driver and whether there is a requirement for a steering wheel. Auto parking is already available in some brands sold in Australia. The requirement to have a driver’s licence needs consideration, as well the age and alcohol limits of the ‘driver’.

In AADA’s view, any regulatory standards introduced must include as a minimum compliance with Australian Design Rules (ADRs), including C-ITS interoperability of vehicles imported into Australia.


While it is generally accepted that automated vehicles have the potential to increase road safety, the question of liability needs to be considered. Vehicle crashes can be caused by a number of parties including:

  • the driver
  • a third party
  • the manufacturer
  • the service provider, and
  • the network manager.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) believes that “with minor exceptions, the various arrangements regarding Roads, Vehicles and Speeds are sufficiently flexible to accommodate increasing levels of automation in vehicles.”  The ICA considers that a vehicle must be under the control of a driver to establish a firm basis for liability for any damage or loss caused by the vehicle.

Privacy and access to data

This is an important and emerging issue given recent examples overseas where vehicles with less sophisticated computer control systems have been ‘hacked’ into and controlled by external parties. The main concern is who has access to the vehicle data and the protection of that information. For vehicle ownership security reasons, key and security codes should not be accessible to the public.

On-road trials

Trials are being conducted in a number of states but the NTC emphasises the need for nationally consistent guidelines including infrastructure development.

The NTC aims to deliver its recommendations to the Transport and Infrastructure Council in November.

The NTC discussion paper “Regulatory barriers to more automated road and rail vehicles” Issues Paper can be accessed here: http://www.ntc.gov.au/Media/Reports/(66E42530-B078-4B69-A5E3-53C22759F26E).pdf.
1 National Transport Commission 2016 p.16, Regulatory barriers to more automated road and rail vehicles: Issues paper, viewed 29/04/2016, <http://www.ntc.gov.au/Media/Reports/(66E42530-B078-4B69-A5E3-53C22759F26E).pdf>.
2Insurance Council of Australia 2016, Regulatory barriers to more automated road and rail vehicles submission, viewed 29/04/2016, < http://www.ntc.gov.au/Media/Reports/(F6C378F7-9BBF-4727-AB23-2FAA153A86B0).pdf>.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *