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Australia announces new national laws for self-driving cars

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Self-driving cars are coming to Australia at some point, and lawmakers have to prepare for their arrival, whether they like it or not.

By 2020, a national law will be put into place around autonomous vehicles, helping guide manufacturers and operators looking to bring the technology to the country.

The National Transport Commission (NTC), an independent body that develops regulation for the Australia’s roads and other transport systems, will be tasked to establish a uniform law around the technology.

Some states have passed laws on autonomous vehicles in Australia. In New South Wales, a human presence is required in an automated vehicle, and is legally deemed to be the vehicle’s “driver.”

The NTC, who published a paper on changing Australia’s driving laws to support automated vehicles, said the problem is that most of the country’s traffic legislation “assumes there is a human driver,” and is thus a barrier to rolling out automated vehicles.

“With automated vehicles, there will be times when an ‘automated driving system,’ rather than a human, will be in control of the vehicle. We need a nationally consistent law to know who is in control of a motor vehicle at any point in time,” NTC chief executive Paul Retter said in a statement online.

“Without a change to existing laws or new law, there would be no-one to hold responsible for compliance with our road rules when an automated driving system is in control of a vehicle.”

The NTC has proposed the national regulation will:

  • allow an automated driving system (rather than a human) to perform the dynamicdriving task when it is engaged
  • ensure that there is always a legal entity responsible for driving
  • set out any obligations on relevant entities, including the ADS entity, and users of automated vehicles
  • provide flexible compliance and enforcement options.

Working closely with road agencies and transport departments, the NTC hopes to roll out the laws by the time commercially-available automated vehicles are ready.

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