Mercedes-Benz is trialling autonomous vehicles in Australia. Picture: Joshua Dowling.
Mercedes-Benz is trialling autonomous vehicles in Australia. Picture: Joshua Dowling.

Australian roads ‘not ready’ for driverless cars

THE DEATH of local car manufacturing and a lack of infrastructure has dropped Australia to a lowly 14th out of 20 countries for autonomous vehicle readiness.

The report by global consulting group KPMG says the key issues for Australia are "improvements to roads and electric charging infrastructure".

The lack of a local automotive industry also means the country scores poorly for research and development investment.

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Other countries are closer to self-driving cars. Pic: Supplied.
Other countries are closer to self-driving cars. Pic: Supplied.

The survey of the 20 most AV-ready countries was based on four criteria: policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance.

National guidelines for self-driving vehicle trials released last May by the Turnbull government earned us 11th place for policy and legislation, but the KPMG report implies the laws didn't go far enough because the driver is still required to be the "legal driver" and is responsible for any accident caused while sitting behind the wheel of an autonomous vehicle.

Australian regulations still require the driver to be in control and responsible for any accidents. Picture: Supplied.
Australian regulations still require the driver to be in control and responsible for any accidents. Picture: Supplied.

In contrast The Netherlands tops the rankings for letting autonomous vehicle trials occur without a driver, having more than 1000 traffic lights capable of communicating with autonomous cars. The country also has the highest density of electric vehicles and relatively large numbers of businesses involved in AV research.

A KPMG spokesman says autonomous vehicles aren't likely in the next decade, so electric vehicle readiness becomes important.

"There's no doubt cars with internal combustion engines will be autonomous but the issue is we need to prepare now if we're going to deal with the challenges autonomous vehicles present."

An autonomous Mercedes-Benz Smart Vision EQ concept car with no steering wheels or pedals at the recent CES show in Las Vegas. Photo: AFP.
An autonomous Mercedes-Benz Smart Vision EQ concept car with no steering wheels or pedals at the recent CES show in Las Vegas. Photo: AFP.

The KPMG report also highlights the need for private sector research and investment in the technology.

"Private-sector research and testing is an essential element in the development of AV, with three of the top five countries in this index's first edition having significant domestic AV capability. But on its own it is not sufficient, as reflected in the US' third place. While the US is the clear global leader on innovation, it has an average rating on legislation."

Senior Mercedes engineering executive Jochen Haab conducts an autonomous driving test from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra. Picture: Joshua Dowling.
Senior Mercedes engineering executive Jochen Haab conducts an autonomous driving test from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra. Picture: Joshua Dowling.

Serious private-sector research folded in Australia with the demise of Ford, Holden and Toyota as local car makers, leaving the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Volvo to fill the gap as they try to create computer code to cope with our huge distances and hazards such as kangaroos.

KPMG also noted we scored inside the top 10 for consumer acceptance of autonomous vehicles despite the fact "Australians are fairly cynical about the technology".

NRMA director Tim Trumper says there are "about 700 laws that need to change ... it's solvable but it's complex".

"At some point the trust issue will be solved because we just get used to the idea but we're a long way from that."

 

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

- Implement road pricing reform as a matter of priority to manage demand for car travel, and as a policy lever to encourage ride sharing.

- Assist with a dedicated AV testing facility, tailored to simulate Australian road conditions which can be used by the global carmakers to test and ensure the technology is suitable for Australian cities and regions.

- Consider autonomous electric vehicles in our infrastructure planning and investment decision making processes. This includes the take-up of autonomous ride-sourcing services and the implications for travel behaviour and land use.

- Encourage an eventual transition from private ownership to ride sourcing and car sharing for daily travel. This includes promoting business models that provide these services.

- Governments must also ensure high quality alternatives to car travel are available, including public transport, walking and cycling.



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