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Canberra cautious as backers push platooning and AV

Parliamentary committee given measured approach from government


While yet to reflect freight industry positions on driverless vehicles, a parliamentary committee looking at the issue has received positive feedback on the potential of truck and light vehicle platooning from other quarters.

But this has met with a sober appraisal of what the concept and the future of autonomous vehicles (AVs) might hold from the federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

The most positive submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources for its inquiry into the Social Issues Relating to Land-Based Driverless Vehicles in Australia have come from those currently involved in testing.

Telstra, which linked with IT firm Peleton and the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) for the Western Australian trials, has highlighted the safety aspect of and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs)

 “AVs promise societal benefits in terms of safety (reduced human error), productivity (time better spent on activity other than the driving task) and mobility (they can be used by unlicensed humans or freight),” Telstra says.

ADVI reports solid social acceptance in Australia for the concept, though it is not clear if that extends past passenger cars.

“ADVI-commissioned research undertaken in 2016 found that 47 per cent of Australians agree that driverless vehicles will be safer than traditional vehicles,” it says.

“While a positive result, given the fact that most Australians have not actually driven a vehicle with AV technologies, it also flags the pressing need for more testing within an Australian environment to strengthen public confidence.”

And it wants faster movement on the issue.

“It is ADVI’s position that an ‘Driverless Vehicle Accelerator Program’ be initiated in Australia as a priority to ensure that ‘near to market technologies’ such as high speed highway assist (with drivers in control), remote car parking (using a hand-held device) and potentially truck platooning are available no later than 2020,” it tells the inquiry.

“Freight systems and intermodal terminals should be designed to adopt driverless vehicles and platooning for national and local freight and supply chains to fully realise freight productivity benefits.”

Australasian road transport and traffic agencies peak group Austroads raised an emissions reduction angle to the debate.

On environmental concerns it believes “consideration should also be given to how automated vehicles, particularly if they are electric, platooning and shared use, could potentially contribute to the reduction of vehicle emissions”.

While acknowledging broad possible congestion and safety advantages from AVs, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has flagged issues with platooning but says it will await the outcome of testing here and abroad before taking a stance.

“Truck platooning, while potentially an efficient way to transport freight, could cause concerns with human drivers about overtaking or road visibility,” the department says.

“It should be noted that unlike European countries, heavy vehicles with multiple trailers are widely used in Australia, potentially reducing the relative benefits of automated platooning.

Governments in Australia and around the world are undertaking trials of automated vehicles in order to gain more real world experience about the potential efficiency benefits.

“These trials will help to inform consideration of how infrastructure investment, planning, policy and regulation might need to change to optimise productivity and efficiency benefits.

The submissions have arrived just a few weeks after the pace of those to the National Transport Commission discussion paper, National guidelines for automated vehicle trials, began to ease off.

Other submissions so far can be found here.

Meanwhile, Singapore prepares to host the first annual Autonomous Vehicles Asia Summit starting next Wednesday.

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