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Autonomous vehicles a step closer in Australia

On trial: Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz will be welcome to test autonomous vehicle technologies on Australian roads under new national guidelines.

Australia welcomes autonomous vehicle developers with new guidelines

24 May 2017

NATIONAL guidelines for trials of autonomous vehicles in all Australian states and territories were announced in Canberra today, paving the way for global car manufacturers and technology providers to test vehicles in Australia.

Although such road rules are a state responsibility, the guidelines have been drawn up jointly by the federal National Transport Commission (NTC) and Austroads with the blessing of all state and federal transport ministers and in consultation with industry to ensure a nationally consistent set of rules reflecting best practice.

The guidelines cover areas such as safety, reporting and insurance, and require the trialling organisations to address a wide range of conditions when applying to state traffic authorities for a permit before hitting the roads.

The rules are the first step towards the development of a national set of regulations to govern autonomous vehicles for all road users. Under current road laws, automated vehicles are illegal, but state and territory governments are reviewing their exemption powers to ensure that they have appropriate powers to support the trials.

Government authorities believe that autonomous vehicles are not only inevitable but quickly approaching market readiness.

For companies such as Ford and Holden, which have a massive investment in vehicle research and development in Australia, the guidelines provide comfort that it can take future autonomous test vehicles on to Australian roads across state boundaries under a single, clear set of rules.

Ford has already shown its hand by announcing plans for a special autonomous vehicle testing facility at its You Yangs proving ground at Lara, south west of Melbourne, where it is developing the next-generation Ranger and Everest for global markets, along with other products such as the next Figo light car for India.

Holden engineers are working on the V6 version of the next Commodore, as well as powertrain calibration projects for a number of its General Motors affiliates – projects that ultimately require taking the vehicles on public roads for real-world testing.

Many other manufacturers such as Toyota, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi bring vehicles to Australia for suspension and cooling system testing – engineering programmes that in future will include autonomous control components.

Announcing the guidelines, NTC chief executive Paul Retter said they were designed to be flexible and easy for industry to use, to support trials across Australia.

“We have worked closely with vehicle manufacturers, technology developers and federal, state and territory governments to ensure our approach to trials is nationally-consistent and reflects best practice,” he said.

“With a range of different environmental conditions, a receptive population and now guidelines for the safe conduct of trials, Australia has the potential to become a global testing and innovation hub for automated vehicles.” Feedback from all autonomous vehicle trials in Australia will need to be supplied to state traffic authorities. This includes any crashes or near misses.

This reporting system already applies in some American states such as California and Nevada where trials by numerous motor companies and technology suppliers such as Google are already underway, sometimes with less than perfect results.

Despite the risks, governments in Australia and elsewhere see autonomous vehicles as the best way to drastically reduce the road toll while at the same time improving traffic flows.

Austroads chief executive Nick Koukoulas said the guidelines draw on international best practice and have a strong focus on safety.

“By establishing a performance-based framework to support on-road trials, these guidelines aim to assure the Australian community that roads are being used safely,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to the Australian public getting a first-hand view of the benefits of these new and emerging technologies.”

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