Over the last few years, numerous transport authorities have greenlit the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, as was the case with Ford in the state of California towards the end of 2015. Since then, self-driving vehicles have remained a fairly hot topic, with the US government having ultimately determined that the computer algorithms in Google's cars are the actual drivers rather than a human occupant, and numerous accidents involving this mode of transport.
Now, Australia is looking to get up to speed with draft laws that will eventually see self-driving vehicles make their appearance on roads around the nation, with supporting legislation to be in place by 2020. Citing that "no country has a full end-to-end regulatory framework in place to accommodate automated vehicles", the NTC's policy paper outlines how it envisions this challenge should be tackled.
With respect to the announcement, Paul Retter, chief executive of the National Transport Commission, said:
"With automated vehicles, there will be times when an automated driving system [ADS], 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.
Without a change to existing laws or new law, there would be no-one to hold responsible for compliance with our road rules when an automated driving system is in control of a vehicle."
In total, the NTC proposed a total of 11 policy recommendations to kickstart the architecture of national laws. In addition, another three directions to the Transport and Infrastructure Council were outlined that will be fleshed out by the national working group comprised of state, territory, Commonwealth representatives, and the NTC itself.
While the paper called for clarification on a number of points, such as whether or not drink- or drug-driving offences apply to users who start or ride in a dedicated autonomous vehicle and what obligations sit squarely with computer systems rather than users, it remains to be seen as to what form the final laws take.