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Autonomous Driving in Australia

By now, most people will have seen the video of the man asleep behind the wheel of his Tesla travelling down the motorway in America, and wondered how on earth that was possible. His vehicle is equipped with what Tesla calls ‘Autopilot’ which relies on numerous cameras and radar to detect what is around the car, and allow it to operate with reduced input from the driver.

This is not how it was designed to be used however, and Tesla maintains that all Autopilot functions require the driver to remain alert and take over in the event of an emergency.

The Tesla Autopilot functions are the result of years of technological advances into autonomous driving, which is the act of a vehicle being able to ‘drive itself’ utilising cameras, radar and other software and hardware to ‘see’ the road and other vehicles and operate safely around them.

Autonomous driving has been stated to be readily available by 2025 from a number of manufacturers including Google, Apple and Uber. So, what does that mean for the average driver? Will we all be kicking back watching movies or reading a book on our daily commute in the near future?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The sheer amount of data that is needed to allow vehicles to operate under all conditions and cater for any emergency situation on the road is immense, and autonomous operation can lead to accidents occurring that may have been preventable if the driver was in complete control.

Road laws also need to be taken into account for these autonomous vehicles to determine who is at fault in an accident where the vehicle was in control, as well as updates to insurance to cover these situations.

The infrastructure of Australian roads also need to be updated for these types of vehicles, with unobstructed street signs, clear road markings to indicate lanes, intersections and roundabouts to allow for the autonomous cameras to pick up where the vehicle can operate safely, and where the driver may have to intervene.

There have been a number of accidents in the USA where autonomous driving vehicles have not been able to identify road markings or other hazards, and some of these have led to fatalities.

Road laws also need to be taken into account for autonomous vehicles, including when and where they can be operated. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are the first Australian states to look into the road laws involving autonomous vehicles, however, these are still in their infancy as the Government comes to grips with the new technology.

In New South Wales, autonomous vehicles are able to be operated under the supervision of a fully licenced driver, who is still legally in charge of the vehicle. An insurance policy for public liability of A$20 million is also required to cover any damages that may occur from operating an autonomous vehicle.

With the future of technology leading into a driverless commute, Australia has taken the wait-and-watch approach to autonomous driving, and it looks like it will continue that way until the technology is ready to be rolled out worldwide. #Airlieauto

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