Discussion paper

Regulatory options to assure automated vehicle safety in Australia

9 Jun 2017

Automated vehicles that do not require human driver input into the driving task for at least part of the journey are expected to arrive on our roads from around 2020. Currently there is no explicit regulation covering these automated driving functions. Manufacturers are aiming to ensure automated driving functionality improves road safety, but this technology may also create safety risks for road users.

The purpose of this paper is to seek feedback on:

  • whether there is a need for explicit regulation of automated driving functions, above existing transport and consumer law
  • if there is a need for regulation, what form this should take.

 We are seeking feedback from governments, road safety experts, automated vehicle manufacturers, technology providers, insurers and other stakeholders on these questions. This paper examines:

  • how safety of automated vehicle functions should be assessed
  • the options for a safety assurance system
  • the criteria that should be used to decide among those options
  • institutional arrangements, road access and compliance.

Based on the feedback we receive, we will make recommendations to transport ministers in November 2017 on the preferred approach and the next steps to implement any required changes to legislation.

Australian governments have started work to remove legislative barriers to increasingly automated road vehicles. These barriers relate primarily to road traffic laws that implicitly require a human driver. Without further action, once these barriers have been removed, governments would have no regulatory mechanism to proactively ensure automated driving technologies are safe. Automated driving technologies are progressively undertaking more of the driving task, and it is likely this technology will improve road safety, mobility, productivity and environmental outcomes. However, the technology is highly innovative and diverse and requires further testing and evaluation. From a regulatory perspective, there are four key issues:

  • Should governments have a role assuring the safety of automated vehicles?
  • What are our measures of safety, and what is the level of safety required?
  • How does a safety assurance system balance safety outcomes with innovation, certainty and regulatory efficiency?
  • Where does a safety assurance system fit within the existing regulatory framework for road transport, and how does it interact with existing laws?

In November 2016 the Transport and Infrastructure Council directed the National Transport Commission (NTC) to develop a national performance-based assurance regime designed to ensure the safe operation of automated vehicles. This will form a key component of an end-to-end regulatory framework to support the safe commercial operation of automated vehicles.

Based on the feedback to this discussion paper, the NTC will recommend a preferred approach to ministers in November 2017, along with the next steps on regulatory reforms to support this approach. In the absence of agreed Australian or international standards specific to automated vehicle technologies, governments need to consider the uncertain safety outcomes associated with different applications of automated driving, and whether the safety risk justifies additional government oversight and regulatory intervention. In Australia this type of oversight would be in addition to existing general consumer and product liability laws as well as extensive regulation covering vehicle standards and vehicle operation. As the performance of the vehicle technology becomes increasingly safety-critical, new regulatory approaches may be needed to ensure initial and ongoing safety. Such approaches will need to cover all potential technology providers, from traditional automotive manufacturers to companies and individuals developing after-market devices to modify existing vehicles. There is a risk that, without a national and coordinated response to automated vehicle reform, Australia’s complex regulatory framework will result in inconsistent regulation or over-regulation of automated vehicles across states and territories..

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