Australia announces new laws for autonomous vehicles

Australia announces new laws for autonomous vehicles

Transport ministers have announced new, purpose-designed legislation to allow autonomous vehicles to take to the road in Australia.

The new laws, set to be in place by 2020, will allow automotive companies to roll out self-driving technologies, as they are already doing in the US, China, and a handful of other countries.

National Transport Commission (NTC) chief executive Paul Retter said:

With automated vehicles, there will be times when an ‘automated driving system’, rather than a human, will be in control of the vehicle. We need a nationally consistent law to know who is in control of a motor vehicle at any point in time.

New laws are needed in Australia because existing legislation lacks the necessary legal terminology to attribute liability when it comes to autonomous vehicles on the public highway – should they happen to be involved in accidents, for example.

The NTC hopes to provide both a clear legal framework and a conducive environment for manufacturers to develop autonomous technologies in the country.

Changing driving laws

The regulations will ensure that there is always a legal entity in charge when an automated driving system is in use, creating the necessary legal basis to deal with accidents and other problems.

The NTC policy paper says that the new rules will also:

  • allow an automated driving system (rather than a human) to perform the dynamic driving task when it is engaged
  • set out any obligations on relevant entities and users of automated vehicles
  • provide flexible compliance and enforcement options.

The NTC said it will work alongside road agencies and transport departments to develop the detailed policies by 2020.

Internet of Business says

The new laws are being created following the NTC’s release of a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) on the development of a Safety Assurance System (SAS) that will underpin the safe, commercial deployment of automated vehicles in Australia.

This consultation between government and industry officials is a vital part of keeping government policy relevant to ever-changing technological innovation and disruption. Whenever industries are disrupted – by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, for example – governments often struggle to regulate the changes, without hampering technologies’ progress.

Despite the media coverage of autonomous driving accidents – including two fatalities in March 2018 – in the long run, driverless systems may prove to be safer than humans in most aspects of driving. However, the issue of legal liability is a tricky one, and it’s a challenge that all AI systems, and not just those in transport, present to existing laws.

If Australia wants to benefit from self-driving technology, it will need to work quickly to create an environment that attracts industry leaders such as Waymo, Uber, Tesla, Apple, and China’s Baidu.