Driverless cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs), will be the biggest change to transport since the invention of wheel, according to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, but the technology is set to struggle if governments can’t get the currently hesitant community onboard.

Automated Vehicles: Do We Know Which Road To Take?, joint research between IPA, Advisian and UNSW, says that while driverless cars “could see car ownership become the exception”, recent figures showed that 83 per cent of Australians still wanted to have the option of driving manually. According to Professor Travis Waller, director of the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation at UNSW, 72 per cent were also worried about the privacy of their data, and less than a quarter of those surveyed were comfortable letting their children near the technology.

“These are issues that need to be discussed with the community before any decisions are made,” he said.

However, if widely accepted, Professor Waller said AVs would not only change the way we use transport, “they will change the way our cities work.”

IPA chief executive Brendan Lyon said a problem was that discussion of AVs tended to rush to a 40-year outlook, “and forgets that we need to make changes now to allow them to enter the vehicle fleet and to understand when, where and how many AVs operate on the road network.”

The report warns governments that regulation and investment in driverless cars should not lag community adoption, but neither should governments “pick winners” in advance of community adoption.

The report recommends a four-step process to prepare for driverless cars:

  1. Infrastructure Australia or Austroads to engage with transport industry partners and road users to benchmark community needs, hesitations and choices regarding AVs – and coordinate national policy on AVs
  2. The National Transport Commission to develop concurrent federal and state legislation and regulations to allow AVs and to enter Australian roads
  3. Government road agencies (coordinated through Austroads) to begin reporting on the number, type and de-identified location of AVs entering the vehicle fleet
  4. Transport planning to routinely assess AV uptake in long-term infrastructure, land use and wider strategic planning

Advisian principal Zoltan Maklary said Austroads and Infrastructure Australia’s focus should be on engaging stakeholders on laws and planning changes that may be needed, and installing mechanisms to understand how the vehicle fleet changes over time.

“Ultimately, the community’s choices will dictate how fast and how well Australia captures the benefits of AVs and there is a good case for ongoing engagement to inform the community and policymakers,” he said.

“Infrastructure Australia or Austroads could consider coordinating a consultation period with industry to understand the impacts of AVs on the broader transport network, and should also work with the community to understand their concerns.”

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