South Australia has become the first Australian state to legalise controlled testing of driverless cars on public roads, with new laws announced today.
The news follows confirmation last year that the South Australian government would review a proposal to welcome road-focussed autonomous technology projects to the state, as part of a new program that also included the launch of the inaugural Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) in November.
In September, South Australian transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mullighan said the state “is now positioned to become a key player in this emerging industry and by leading the charge, we are opening up countless new opportunities for our businesses and our economy”.
The new laws, confirmed today, allow for technology companies to submit plans for a proposed trial, along with evidence of sufficient protective measures and liability insurance.
Once approved, that company or organisation will then be allowed to trial their driverless vehicle technology on public roads for a full evaluation of its ability to cope with unpredictable daily traffic.
Similar initiatives have been in place in regions overseas for some time, but today’s news marks a first for Australia.
“This is a significant development in Australia, but also in the global context,” Mullighan said today. “There are only a few jurisdictions globally where it’s legal to conduct on-road trials with other vehicle traffic.”
“This is important for South Australia, but it’s also important for Australia that we can attract, as a country, people to come here and trial the sorts of technologies that we know are going to deliver huge safety and productivity benefits to our roads and to our communities.”
“By being the first state in Australia to pass these laws we are sending a very clear message to this industry that South Australia is open for business.”
South Australian premier Jay Weatherill has said previously that the driverless vehicle technology industry is forecast to be worth $90 billion within the next 15 years.
Gerard Waldron, managing director of ARRB Group, the research and consulting body behind ADVI, has also said that the nation’s $27 billion annual “road safety bill” could be reduced by up to 90 percent with the advent of driverless cars.
Mullighan said that the rapid introduction of these new laws was crucial to quickly readying the state, and the country, for a driverless future.
“We have the leader of Google’s driverless vehicle initiative making the claim that they’ll be ready to go within three or four years … we’ve got Elon Musk from Tesla with an even more aggressive timeframe of three years,” Mullighan said.
“So it’s important that in South Australia, as well as around the rest of the country, we know what we’re in for. We know what our road laws need to provide for, we know how to manage our road networks, and we can start getting used to these technologies as regular drivers when we start to see them out on the roads.”