Fletcher outlines autonomous vehicles approach


Minister skirts trucks issue in explaining government’s position

Fletcher outlines autonomous vehicles approach
Paul Fletcher says ministers seek to facilitate adoption with legal and insurance structures

 

Urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher has given indications on how the federal government is approaching autonomous vehicles (AVs) while avoiding the issue of driverless trucks on the open road.

Speaking at International Driverless Vehicles Summit, convened by the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicles Initiative, Fletcher did mention in passing progress already made off-road and in other near-related industries.

He noted that in Australia, "we are already seeing, and will see much more of, driverless vehicles in such closed settings, moving goods not people.

"Some examples include Rio Tinto using driverless trucks on remote mine sites; and the ‘autostrad’ carriers used at the Patricks terminal in Port Botany to move containers around."

More broadly, the federal government views its role as facilitative.

Fletcher says the government is "well positioned to take up autonomous vehicles once they are in the market and there is consumer demand for them.

"From the government perspective, this means encouraging tests and trials, having appropriate safety protections in place for commercial deployments, and resolving insurance and other legal issues."

National guidelines for trials were adopted this year and last week transport ministers agreed to develop a flexible safety assurance system for automated vehicles.

"This is designed to allow industry to demonstrate that vehicles are safe while international standards are still being developed. We aim to have this in place by 2020.

"We also have extensive work underway on insurance and other legal issues.

"Ministers last week also agreed to change the way that the road rules are enforced, so that the human drivers won't have to have one hand on the wheel while using specific automated systems, such as self-parking.

"More work is planned or underway on issues including access to data, the legal definition of ‘driver’ and compulsory third party insurance."

 

Fletcher also noted that automation and electric vehicles will put more pressure on the road tax system and flagged a near-term probe of the issue.

"More and more vehicles are likely to use electric motors rather than internal combustion engines," he says.

"This trend is already underway, and is likely to be reinforced if driverless vehicle technology is taken up. As I have already argued, driverless vehicle technology could well lead to lower levels of household vehicle ownership.

"The combined effect of these trends means that the revenue from fuel excise and car registration is unlikely to keep pace with the amount we spend as a nation on operating, maintaining and investing in roads.

"Today that figure stands at about $25 billion a year—and it looks likely to increase.

"So part of our policy response to the likely increasing role of electric vehicles and driverless vehicles is to consider how we can continue to fund our road system.

"Last year the Turnbull Government said that we intended to establish a study, to be led by an eminent Australian, into the way Australia funds and pays for its road networks. I will have more to say about this study, and who will lead it, in coming months."

He also described a possible future that includes something that sounds like platooning but appears to have motorists in mind, saying that "it looks likely that driverless vehicles will break down today's rigid demarcations between private and public transport, and rail and road transport.

"In a future world we could have driverless vehicles operating over dedicated high speed corridors for part of a journey, probably in convoy like a train without rails, and then separating out to complete individual journeys on suburban roads."

 

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