David Anderson (DA) PSM, Chair and Commissioner, Australian National Transport Commission talks with Damian Pedreschi (DP), Beca’s Group Director, Transport & Infrastructure about the future of autonomous vehicles in Australia.

DP:  Thanks for agreeing to chat with us David. There has been a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles and the implications for Australia's transport infrastructure. We're very grateful for your time today in sharing your thoughts with us.

DA:  Thank you.

DP:  From your exposure to the work going on here in Australia and around the world, what are some of the main issues governments face in order to prepare for autonomous vehicles?

DA:  Governments around the world are still grappling with the legal and policy implications of autonomous vehicles. However, I believe that Australia is on par, if not in front of, other nations in considering future regulations.

A big impact on the design of effective regulation is that the technology is still very much under development. Although there is enormous investment in research, there remain significant technical challenges and this has interesting impacts on the development of regulation and how we can prepare. Our approach to regulation must be flexible and agile enough to embrace different possibilities as the technology develops.

For example, until the technology has been developed and tested it is not possible to set standards around how safe automated vehicles must be. However, we anticipate that automated vehicles will ultimately be considerably safer than human drivers and it is for that reason the NTC is aiming to develop regulation that can encourage safe testing and development.

It is also important for Australia to work as one policy entity and not as a number of small fragmented "state and territory" markets.  Industry have told us that this will be critical if we want to attract them to deploy new technology in Australia. The NTC is therefore working very closely with all levels of government and with key industry groups to facilitate this outcome.

DP:  What do you think will be the key drivers that will shift Australia towards a future of autonomous vehicles?

DA:  There are a lot of unknowns in terms of when the technology will arrive, the business models that may develop and consumer take-up. However, we suspect that key drivers will likely include things such as the need for further productivity improvements in freight delivery, the mobility challenges of an ageing population and an increase in the number of city dwellers choosing to not own a vehicle.

DP:  What questions do we need to address before our community can really expect to see autonomous vehicles on our roads?

DA:  From an NTC perspective, we believe it is very important to develop an end-to-end regulatory framework to provide certainty to industry and assurance to the public.

There are four key areas we need to work through in order to achieve an end-to-end regulatory system which meets the expectations of the Australian community. Things like, how do we know these vehicles are safe? Who is liable in the event of a crash? How do we enforce rules and regulations when there isn’t a human in control? Who should have access to the kind of data generated by automated systems?

There is still a significant amount of work to do on this, but we are working hard to deliver these key reforms in close consultation with federal, state and local governments, industry and the wider community.

DP:  What sort of infrastructure investment will be needed do you think?

DA:  Infrastructure requirements for automated vehicles remains an open question. We are hearing different views from different manufacturers about what might be required for automated vehicles to operate. There is certainly a push for greater national consistency in areas such as road signage.

DP:  What steps is the NTC taking to support thinking, planning and acceptance around autonomous vehicles in Australia?

DA:  The NTC is playing a role in this through developing national legislative reforms to support automated vehicles. This will ensure Australia is ready to embrace innovation and take advantage of the associated benefits.

We have already developed guidelines for automated vehicle trials and we are now working on the end-to-end regulatory system to ensure we have clear regulations in place around the safety of automated vehicles and their operation on the road. This includes examining how we define a driver and the obligations that we put on drivers, manufacturers and registered owners of vehicles.

Currently, we are looking for input from on how Australia’s driving laws need to be changed to support automated vehicles. We encourage those interested to take a look at the paper on our website and make a submission before 24 November 2017.

In the near future, there will need to be an emphasis on community education as driving these vehicles may be very different from what we are used to, as well as examination of issues such as cybersecurity. 

About the Author
Damian Pedreschi

Chief Customer and Markets Officer

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