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Australia edging closer to AV legalisation

Master Control Program: Complex legalisation changes will need to come into effect before autonomous vehicles can hit open roads, but the emerging technology is proving difficult to mandate.

2020 goal in place, but complex rules means AV standards may not come until later

22 Jun 2018

AUSTRALIA’S proposed autonomous vehicle (AV) road standards are moving closer to being passed, but the complexity of meshing self-driving regulations with existing rules is proving a challenge to overcome.
As previously reported, these laws are expected to pass in 2020, but at this week’s Smart Mobility Show in Melbourne, National Transport Commission project director for compliance and technology Marcus Burke said varying autonomous technologies were proving difficult to plan for.
“We know that there are a range of different vehicles being trialled and tested around the world, and in terms of the work that we are doing, we need to think about existing vehicles that look like standard sedans that will comply with our current design rules that will start to have automated functions added to it,” he said.
“But we will also have vehicles that do not comply with current standards that will look quite different, which will start to be deployed.
“We also need to think about existing vehicles on our road network that might have software upgrades that add automation, and there may also be aftermarket devices that are released that could be fitted to existing vehicles.
“So we need to think about all those different ways that the technology could be deployed and how we design a system that can accommodate that.”
Although tests are already being conducted on fully autonomous vehicles, and many manufacturers have laid out their proposed plans well into the next decade, Mr Burke said there are still more variables to consider.
“But at the same time there are a lot things that we don’t know about … so we don’t know exactly when the technology will be commercially available, we don’t know what applications will be the most successful … we don’t know the mix of technologies that will be used … we don’t know how the business models will evolve … we don’t know what the consumer take-up of this technology will be or how it will be used to change consumer behaviour, and coming out of all of that, we don’t know what the impact of the technology will be in terms of safety, in terms of mobility, in terms of congestion, so impacts are both positive and negative,” he said.
“So all of those unknowns create a real challenge in terms of how you conceive regulation and it means we need to move away from the generally direct, prescriptive approach we’ve taken to road transport in the past to looking at more of an outcome-based approach, and we need to be flexible to allow for evolution of the technology and the business models over time.”
Mr Burke said special attention will need to be paid to current regulations such as registration, licensing, modifications, roadworthy, maintenance, rules of operation and end of lifecycle issues, and how they will apply to automated vehicles.
“We are then working on four areas for reforms to try and get to that end-to-end regulatory system, so we are trying to answer four questions in particular: how do we ensure that automatic vehicles are safe?
“What are the rules for the on-road operations of those vehicles and how do existing rules need to change? How do we manage the insurance requirements for all these vehicles and, in particular, their relationship with the existing compulsory third-party schemes?
“And how we protect user’s data that may be collected by these vehicles.”
In terms of safety assurance, Mr Burke said government is still expected to take a prominent role in deeming which AVs will make it to public roads, but a self-certification approach is being pushed to the forefront.
“We had strong support from both industry and government for a self-certification approach, and transport ministers in November supported that approach in principle as being the most flexible at this stage of the development of the technology, and asked us to develop a regulation impact statement looking at how that approach might be implemented into legalisation,” he said.
In addition to Australian Design Rule and cyber security criteria, education of maintenance staff, data sharing, corporate presence and ongoing financial support of the technology over time are also brought up as hurdles for manufacturers to clear.
Vehicle responsibility is also undecided, but the current idea is that the onus falls on the company that brings the self-driving technology to market, said Mr Burke.
“So the way that we have looked at that is to talk about, what we’ve called the automated driving system an entity, so not necessarily the manufacturer because the manufacturer may not be bringing the technology in,” he said.
“Whichever entity is looking to bring these technologies into Australia, that they have appropriate obligations in place to maintain the safety of these vehicles … that may be a traditional manufacturer, that may be a software company … it could be transport operator.
“We want to be agnostic as to what that entity might look like, what the business models might be, but ensure that there are appropriate responsibilities.”
Therefore, technology companies who bring aftermarket self-driving add-ons to existing vehicles, or manufacturers that offer complete AVs, will be held responsible in the event of an accident.
Mr Burke said it is proposed that the entity will also have a primary safety duty to vehicle occupants to keep them safe, and likened it to existing workplace health and safety arrangements that employers hold over employees. 
However, Mr Burke said the organisation may need more than a few years to finalise its findings, with regulation changes taking place after that.
“2020 is quite an ambitious goal in terms of getting legalisation changed, which is always a long process. We hear of a variety of different views as to whether that is the right target or not, it was based on announcements that we hear from manufacturers about where they will be, when they will be initially deploying these technologies, recognising that those initial deployments will be very limited in where they can go and what they can do.
“We will continue to monitor to that over the next couple of years and our ministers have given us a clear indication that we don’t want to get ahead of international developments.”

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