[By Gerard Waldron, Managing Director of the Australian Roads Research Board]
Driverless vehicles have the potential to drastically improve road safety, reduce congestion and save the NSW economy billions of dollars over the coming decade.
It’s the most important transport innovation of the century, but NSW risks falling behind other state governments if it doesn’t take the opportunity to introduce new policy and legislative measures that can drastically reduce the road toll.
The significant road safety opportunity and need for a more collaborative national approach, is the message the Australian Driverless Vehicles Initiative (ADVI) will present today at the NSW Staysafe Committee Inquiry into Driverless Vehicles and Road Safety.
ADVI’s partnership of more than 60 government, industry and academic organisations, including ARRB Group, led the first ever demonstrations of driverless vehicles on Australian roads in SA last year and assisted the SA government in the development of the country’s first driverless vehicle legislation.
While SA is currently in the ‘driverless’ seat, NSW has a strong history in road safety initiatives, such as ANCAP crash testing since the early 1990’s.
Moving to a world where cars are designed not to crash, the NSW Government has the opportunity to support new industry led technological innovations and provide a flexible environment to encourage further innovation in NSW.
Research has shown the road safety benefits could also be as large as a 90 per cent reduction in road crashes, which are currently caused by human error, resulting in a potential saving of $24.3b in the national road trauma bill.
Just last week, global automotive industry analysts IHS Automotive released its latest driverless vehicle forecast, predicting a substantial increase on previous estimates to nearly 76 million vehicles with some level of autonomy sold globally between now and 2035. Over half a million driverless vehicles are predicted to be sold by 2025 with China, Japan, and the USA leading the charge.
[quote]Although Australia has seen a decline in vehicle manufacturing in recent years, we remain more than capable of taking global leadership in research, policy, infrastructure and adoption, just like we have done with previous technology innovations like mobile phone networks.[/quote]
For a nation which suffers a $20 billion annual economic hit from congestion and spends twice as much on transport as the OECD average, driverless vehicles will provide some welcome relief for commuters, with recent research from the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB Group) showing two thirds of Australians have been impacted by worsening road congestion in the last five years.
However, it’s unlikely to be an entirely smooth transition to completely autonomous vehicles and the implications of new risks for drivers requires careful investigation to inform training, testing, licensing and vehicle design.
These potential risks include driver skill, engagement and ability to take back control of semi-autonomous vehicles. Issues around trust, overreliance and misuse of driverless technology and also the much publicised interaction between autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles also require Australian specific research.
If these risks aren’t managed there is the very real danger that isolated road incidents involving driverless vehicles could result in reactionary legislation and policy making that would severely disrupt progress.
By all levels of Australian government working closely with academia and private sectors, we can ensure scientific research informs real-world infrastructure and policy planning that will cement Australia as a global leader and enable the social and economic benefits to flow through as early as possible.
The reality is, driverless and connected vehicles remain a highly complex technology and require a flexible approach to legislation, policy and infrastructure changes, unlike anything we’ve seen before in transport.
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