Australia not ready for driverless cars, says National Transport Commission


news The National Transport Commission (NTC) has released a discussion paper that cites a number of barriers to increased vehicle automation and concludes that Australia is not yet ready for driverless cars.

The paper – titled Regulatory options for automated vehicles – suggests that there are issues that need to be quickly addressed both to ensure clarity over the status of automated vehicles on Australian roads and to support further trials.

In the longer term, the NTC said in a statement, other legislative barriers will need to be addressed to allow fully driverless vehicles in the future.

“Australia’s laws need to be ready for the biggest change to our transport system since cars replaced horses,” said NTC CEO Paul Retter.

The Commission listed a number of questions it feels need to be addressed before automated cars take to the road in any big way.

For example, how can governments enable on-road trials of automated vehicles nationally? And how can governments help clarify who is controlling a vehicle when the human driver is not driving? Or when control can alternate between a human and an automated driving system?

There are also issues with laws that put obligations on a human driver of a vehicle such as providing assistance after a crash, complying with directions from police, or paying any tolls or fines incurred.

Additionally, the NTC said it isn’t not clear whether people injured in a crash with an automated vehicle will always be able to make a claim under compulsory third party insurance or state-based accident compensation schemes.

“Amending these laws shouldn’t be hard, but making sure the new laws are nationally consistent and encourage innovation while ensuring the safety of all road users will be important,” Retter said.

The CEO explained that the NTC will take its recommendations to the country’s transport ministers for their scheduled meeting in November, and invited stakeholders to tell the Commission how to make sure Australia has the “best possible national laws for our national economy and our local communities”.

He added there were risks in trying to rush into amending vehicle standards for fully automated vehicles without first addressing existing barriers to the types of automated vehicles that we are likely to be see on our roads in the near future.

As automated vehicles that share the driving task with humans are expected to be available in Australia within the next few years, the NTC said it is keen to hear views from all parts of industry and the community about possible reforms.

Image credit: Google


  1. Obviously, questions about whether a human is in control at any given time can be answered with compulsory logging of control inputs (a ‘black box’ data recorder, which would be useful for crash investigation in general).

    That’d avoid part of the problem of humans causing a crash and then trying to blame the vehicle manufacturer for it. (Some people will never take responsibility for their own actions!)

  2. This also sounds a bit like the short sightedness of the copyright content industry – how can we crowbar the evolving world into our existing way of doing things. For example, the reason we have traffic law is to ensure compliance with road rules, that are there to ensure the efficient flow of traffic and safety. A computer has no incentive to comply with laws nor will it care about penalties such as fines. Even manufacturers won’t be particularly motivated by financial or criminal penalties beyond their existing desire to produce a safe, reliable system that helps them sell cars. The whole system needs an overhaul if those are the objectives.

    But then, traffic infringements diverged from safety and efficiency decades ago – it is a system of shameless revenue collection. Police departments are probably scared witless at the prospect of losing hundreds of millions in fines, so you can bet they will be exerting their own pressure to ensure legislation locks in fines and penalties with any legislative alterations.

    An entirely new approach requires an entirely new system of oversight. Attempting to hammer the emerging world into old, already broken systems will limit our ability to harness the true benefits of innovation.

    • To be fair, the police don’t like fines either. The police themselves simply want to make sure that people obey the laws. They don’t want to give fines to their family, friends, or strangers on the street, unless they feel that the fine will be the justice that’s deserved or the slap on the wrist that reduces reoffending.

      On the other hand, who is interested in fines? The accountants for the police and the higher-ups who are responsible for ensuring that the accountants can balance the books. But in the grand scheme of things, if road offenses go down and fewer fines are being paid, the police can stop sitting behind trees with radar guns and actually get out into the community to do “real” police work. Departments might need to negotiate for more funding or reduce their staff. Basically, they will need to cut budgets because they have to do less work.

      But yes, driverless cars could “cripple law enforcement budgets”. Story from the US on this exact topic:

      • I’m sure the cops themselves find it tedious and confrontational. But that doesn’t change the fact that 90% of the force is out driving around nailing people for fairly minor traffic infringements and trying to meet quotas (that senior police claim don’t exist, but anyone with police connections knows absolutely does). In WA they eliminated the traffic department around two decades ago because they decided it was the responsibility of all police to do traffic patrols, which is another way of saying the whole force is in traffic enforcement.

    • Well yes, but…

      Many of the current laws will definitely need updating, because the reality is that a computer will be in charge of the vehicle, and our “civilisation” has yet to figure out a way of using the law courts to control rogue computers. But seriously a computer doesn’t need any “… incentive to comply with laws [or] … penalties …” Think for a moment: if the programmers haven’t set the boundaries for safe driving, wouldn’t they be the people to haul before the beak? And it would indeed be the manufacturers who cop the penalties.

      Our real problem is politicians, who don’t and won’t have the vision to let go of their prejudices and embrace technology. Just as with the NBN!

      But yes, the whole system does indeed need an overhaul anyway. Technology won’t wait for our pollies, it will wash straight over them and we’ll be left picking up the pieces.

  3. The Future, you have no place here. Go on piss off and take your high speed Internet and fancy autonomous cars with you. Love, Australia

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