Should driver laws be amended for automated vehicles?

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is seeking input from road transport agencies, police and industry on how Australian governments should amend driver laws to facilitate the introduction of automated vehicles.

The NTC today released a discussion paper, Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles, which seeks to clarify how current driver and driving laws apply to automated vehicles, and who would be legally responsible for their operation.

Chief Executive of the NTC, Paul Retter, said current driving laws were developed before automated vehicles were envisaged. They therefore assume the driver is a human.

“The introduction of more automated vehicles will see elements of the driving task shift away from the human driver to the automated driving system but our laws currently don’t recognise these systems,” Mr Retter said.

“We need to ensure that relevant driving laws apply to automated vehicles when the automated driving system — rather than the human driver — is operating the vehicle.”

This work is one of seven projects, five of which are being led by the NTC and a further two led by the states/territories but for which the NTC is coordinating the findings and subsequent ministerial recommendations.

These projects were approved by ministers in November 2016 as part of the NTC’s roadmap of reform to support the commercial deployment of automated vehicles.

“We have been tasked with identifying and, if necessary, removing legislative impediments to automated vehicles. But we must also maintain the intent of existing laws — to ensure the safe operation of vehicles on Australian roads,” Mr Retter said.

“Legislation must recognise a legal entity that can be held responsible for the automated driving system.”

The NTC’s discussion paper raises 14 questions relating to current driver laws. The key question is:

  • Should driving laws change to allow an automated driving system (ADS) to drive — rather than a human — and ensure that an entity is responsible for the actions of the vehicle when the ADS is driving?

The NTC is seeking feedback on options to reform laws to achieve this and other issues that arise if the ADS is legally permitted to drive.

Submissions for this discussion paper are open until 24 November 2017 via the NTC website.

Following consultation on this paper, the NTC will present reform options to transport ministers in May 2018.

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