waymo autonomous vehicle
Waymo is one company testing autonomous vehicles. Credit: Grendel Khan

Autonomous vehicles may seem some way off in the future, but the introduction of self-driving cars onto Australian roads presents challenges that must be considered before regulatory changes can be implemented to allow autonomous driving.

Public concern about the safety of autonomous vehicles is well documented; the results of a survey conducted by infrastructure company EastLink in November 2018 indicated that consumers believe that autonomous vehicles (AVs) should only be allowed to operate if there is zero chance of a crash.

This may, however, be unrealistic  and although autonomous vehicles do have the potential to reduce crashes and significantly improve safety for both pedestrians and occupants, the implications for insurance and data from AVs regarding incidents still bear consideration.

To this end, the National Transport Commission (NTC) on Tuesday released two policy papers on the future regulation of self-driving vehicles on Australian roads, that seek to look at how motor injury and accident insurance and access to data from AVs involved in such accidents may be approached.

At a meeting conducted by the Transport and Infrastructure Council on August 2, 2019, ministers attending the meeting agreed to a national approach to these challenges in order to ensure that people involved in crashes and incidents involving autonomous vehicles are no worse off than in other non-autonomous vehicle incidents.

Per the council communiqué published following the meeting, “Council agreed to advocate that existing motor accident injury and insurance schemes be expanded to cover crashes caused by automated vehicles and that states and territories should review and amend their schemes.”

Ministers also noted at the meeting recognition of that fact that AVs and cooperative inteliigent transport systems (C-ITS) will generate new sets of data that could be used to improve safety and mobility for the public in general but also present new privacy considerations for individuals.

However, in order to be able to access said data, a legal framework must first be in place.

“There is a need to provide access to compensation for injuries caused by an automated driving system, while ensuring that responsible parties remain liable. This will provide certainty to industry and the public,” said NTC executive leader of future technologies Marcus Burke in a statement.

“There is also potential for government access to C-ITS to improve decision-making and deliver benefits to the public, but this access needs to be balanced with sufficient privacy protections.

“These are important issues that need to be addressed to support the safe deployment of automated vehicles in Australia”, Burke said.

 

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