Australia: Along for the ride: Considering the legal and practical consequences of self-driving vehicles

In the picturesque suburb of South Perth, a very quiet revolution is taking place.

If you're over seven years of age – and have completed an online registration process – you can be part of Australia's first Automated Vehicle Trial (Trial) , by taking a ride on the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC) Intellibus, a fully automated, electric shuttle bus launched on public roads with the support of the WA State Government and the City of South Perth.

The RAC Intellibus travels along a 3.5 kilometre route by the Swan River. This stage of the Trial was launched after initial testing on a private track and then on a public road (albeit without public access.) For this lawyer on board, what is most striking about the ride is how the Trial – and the anticipated future introduction of automated vehicles more generally – will be punctuated by the need to accommodate this new technology within a legal framework.

IT ALREADY LOOKS DIFFERENT

One of the Trial's aims is to give the public an opportunity to experience automated vehicle technology, and the differences are immediately apparent on entering the shuttle. There is no steering wheel or dashboard, the Intellibus can seat up to 11 passengers and has a maximum speed of 45 km/hour (although the Trial operates at about only 20 km/hour).

Indeed, the shuttle is symmetrical, which enables it to travel either forward or backward with equal ease.

Ordinarily speaking, the Australian Design Rules, which are made under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (Cth), set out national standards for vehicles. The Design Rules specify the technical requirements for features such as steering columns, instrument panels and rear vision mirrors – all of which are present to assist human drivers. In the case of the Intellibus these features are either absent or have been modified, so the RAC was required to import the vehicle under the 'Testing and Evaluation' category of the Motor Vehicle Standards Regulations 1989 (Cth). This process is different to the discretionary approval of non-standard vehicles, which is also available under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act in some circumstances.

The implication of relying upon an alternative process is that regulatory standards which do not provide for vehicles without a human driver will make it harder to introduce automated vehicle technology. Put another way, if automated vehicle technology is to be more readily embraced in Australia, regulators will need to consider implementing design standards that do not assume human involvement. As technology is continually evolving, regulations will need to be framed to provide clarity and yet accommodate emerging technology. This in turn will require a shift in perspective from automated vehicle technology being seen as experimental to moving into the mainstream.

JUST HOW AUTOMATED IS IT?

Automated technology is generally divided into six categories, ranging from no automation (including no power steering) to full automation (which does not even require a steering wheel). The Intellibus is Category 4, 'High Automation', meaning that all aspects of driving are automated. The Intellibus nevertheless operates with two Vehicle Chaperones – one of whom holds the vehicle's controller at all times and is able to take control if necessary. (As a side note, and more obvious to the teenagers on board, the 'controller' is actually an 'X-Box' controller in recognition that some existing technology is already apt for the using.) The Vehicle Chaperones must hold driver's licences and indeed, during our ride, the Vehicle Chaperone had to manually drive the shuttle around an oversized vehicle which was parked outside its designated parking bay.

The need to provide for human intervention reflects the current drafting of the Road Traffic Codes 2009 (WA). For example, rule 263 requires that a person 'shall not drive a vehicle, unless he or she is in such a position behind the steering wheel that he or she has full control over the vehicle.' As automated vehicle technology is adopted, the concept of 'control' will need to be clarified: is it sufficient 'control' for a person to merely be in a position to take back the driving function if necessary? Who then will be considered to be in 'control' for the time that that the vehicle is operating in full automation mode? Who is in 'control' if the vehicle can be operated remotely?

JUST GO PLAY IN THE TRAFFIC

It is abundantly clear that the Trial has been set up with safety as the key imperative. The Intellibus employs 3D LIDAR (Light and Detection and Ranging) sensors which use laser beams to measure distance and create a map of its built environment. This allows the Intellibus to interact and react to changing circumstances on the road. It also has 2D LIDAR to detect and avoid moving objects and can automatically apply its brakes if it senses objects in its path.

Anecdotal stories abound of locals familiar with the Intellibus coming within its safety range for the sole purpose of triggering an automatic stop just for laughs. Cheeky locals aside, legislation will need to deal with the apportionment of liability for harm where the technology is literally, the 'driving force'. It also raises the issue of the extent to which artificial intelligence will be sufficiently advanced to address human 'cheekiness': indeed, is there an algorithm for that?

LET'S TURN THIS THING AROUND

The Intellibus operates along a fairly straight stretch of road making a turn at one end. As part of the Trial's traffic management arrangements, a person stands at the intersection with a sign to stop oncoming traffic, to allow the Intellibus to cross the intersection and make the necessary turn. The contrast between human traffic management with a mere sign guiding such future-forward technology across the road is not lost on those on board.

This traffic management is in place as an extra safety measure to ensure that the automated vehicle does not turn in front of on-coming traffic without human confirmation. The alternative would be for the shuttle to be completely reliant upon its own reading of its surroundings through its navigation and sensory systems before entering traffic. For some, it will take an extraordinary leap of faith in technology to plunge (with family in tow) across an intersection relying entirely on the readings of a machine.

Once safely across, our attention turns to the modifications to our surroundings that may be necessary to allow driverless vehicles to communicate with each other and their surroundings:

  • Will sensors need to be placed into all roads, signs and traffic signals?
  • What about the inevitable time when traffic is made up of both fully and partially automated vehicles?
  • Will I be able to take my automated car to other Australian States with different legislative requirements or will the Commonwealth government have a role to play in road traffic management?
  • Australia is made up of millions of kilometres of roads. Will all roads need to be upgraded? Who will bear this cost?
  • If the technology relies upon internet access, what will happen in areas where there is no network coverage?

IMAGINING WHAT COULD BE

One of the best parts of the ride is when passengers are invited to consider 'what could be' with driverless technology of the future. We are told that previous passengers have not only included the mere curious, but businesses considering how this technology will affect their operations. Benefits for those who have mobility issues, and increased independence for the elderly quickly come to mind.

But deeper consideration of the potential impact of driverless vehicles requires many assumptions both as to the level of automation, and the way in which it we will adopt it. For example, some argue that driverless vehicles will reduce the need for parking. A driverless vehicle could leave home in the morning, drop its passengers at their various places of work and school, then either return back to its home station or maximise its usefulness by spending the working day contributing to the family budget by providing ride-share facilities for profit.

Taken to the next level, could a driverless car pick you up from work and have dinner waiting for you to eat on the way home (after having self-manoeuvred through a drive-through to collect your order)? Would fast food companies need to modify their sites to accommodate driverless cars? And if this scenario reduces the need for parking spaces, arguably this surplus parking space could be landscaped to allow for greener urban areas. Indeed, it may be that greener streets could address the health impacts of the possible increased congestion due to automated cars driving all day in the ride-share economy rather than parking.

ENJOY THE RIDE

By now this lawyer's head is bursting with questions and possibilities. With so many 'what ifs' surrounding how legislation should accommodate the technology, this passenger could do no more than sit back and enjoy the ride. The telephone calls to colleagues and Government Departments to ask questions and seek clarification will have to wait – for now.

Note: This article was compiled using RACWA Information Sheets 'RAC Automated Vehicle Trial' and 'RAC Intellibus technical specifications.' Reference was also made to 'National Guidelines for Automated Vehicle Trials – RAC's Response to the National Transport Commission's Discussion Paper February 2017' and 'Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles - RAC's Response to the National Transport Commission's Discussion Paper December 2017'. The authors also made reference to their personal experience.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Chambers Asia Pacific Awards 2016 Winner – Australia
Client Service Award
Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (WGEA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions