As we move ever-closer to the inevitable introduction of automated vehicles on our roads, the National Transport Commission (NTC) is investigating regulatory options. In the US, Federal highway-safety regulators sent a dual message about the prospect of self-driving cars on the roads, encouraging experimentation with the nascent technology but cautioning against proceeding too fast. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)

Automated vehicles are already having a significant impact on markets, public policy and the community. “The line between technology and automotive industries is blurring. The rise of rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft means that transportation is being tied ever more closely to your cell phone, while autonomous driving technology is turning your car into a computer. But these developments are expensive: Carmakers’ R&D budgets jumped 61 percent to $137 billion from 2010 to 2014.” (Source: Alex Webb and Chole Whiteaker, 28 June 2016)

In Australia, the NTC is working on clarifying what is required for the different levels of automated vehicles to legally operate across Australian jurisdictions in order to support innovation, investment and consumer confidence.

Examining whether our current regulatory regimes can support trials and conditional, highly or fully automated vehicles will result in:

  • improved understanding of the current regulatory system and its ability to continue to support increased vehicle automation
  • identification of any regulatory or operational barriers to be removed or overcome and potential time pressures or options
  • a nationally-consistent approach for increased vehicle automation with a single regulatory approach (as far as possible with emerging technology).

The NTC is engaging with manufacturers, technology providers, policy-makers, road agencies and community groups to identity and address the regulatory issues. It released a discussion paper in May 2016, seeking stakeholder feedback on options to address regulatory barriers to increased vehicle automation. The discussion paper:

  • identified key issues based on a comprehensive legal audit of Commonwealth, state and territory legislation;
  • summarised stakeholder feedback to the NTC issues paper, Regulatory barriers to more automated road and rail vehicles (NTC, 2016), and
  • discussed potential options to address the identified issues.

Vehicle manufacturers are progressively introducing higher levels of automation. Gradually we are getting closer to the commercial deployment of vehicles that, in certain scenarios, can drive themselves without human intervention or monitoring.

These concepts have raised questions about whether Australia’s current regulatory regime can support highly or fully automated vehicles on public roads or shared railways. Issues such as interaction between road transport, rail safety and consumer protection laws, as well as liability and insurance and common law requirements need to be addressed.

In November 2015 the Transport and Infrastructure Council asked the NTC to identify whether there are any regulatory or operational barriers associated with the introduction of more automated road and rail vehicles in Australia.

The project will complement other research and project activities undertaken by Austroads, road agencies and other organisations. These include Austroads projects related to assessing the safety benefits of automated vehicles, any impacts on registration and licencing processes and any impacts of automated vehicle on network infrastructure.

These organisations will work together to ensure a coordinated approach is adopted and to can share knowledge and outcomes.

A relevant extract from the KPMG Global Automotive Executive Survey 2016 is reproduced below:

Does using auto-pilot mean losing sight?

The majority of survey respondents see self-driving features as an absolute purchasing criteria, or at least expect it to become more important by 2030.Survey results suggest that in a world of autonomous driving classical differentiating factors will diminish in favour of total cost of ownership (TCO), questioning the sustainability of the traditional automotive business model.”

The sustainability of the traditional automotive business model should be given serious consideration by Dealers and, according to KPMG, “autonomous vehicles will give passengers the chance to use their time more efficiently while commuting. Webb and Whiteaker state ‘It costs an average of $8,558 per year to own a car in the US, but each vehicle is used just 4 percent of the time. Ridesharing in an autonomous vehicle could ensure that cars are always in use.’”

Something to think about.

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