Road Safety Amendment (Automated Vehicles) Bill 2017
I rise to make a contribution on this bill.
Clearly the purpose of it is to set a framework around how we go forward with the testing of these motor vehicles that are now upon us. I think we have been seeing them coming for quite a long time.
Some of the motor vehicles that are on the roads now have amazing add-ons that we did not see coming five or 10 years ago, and probably 15 or 20 years ago there was not anything much other than the usual standard features of a motor car. Now you can be driving along and your vehicle will slow down if you get too close to the vehicle in front. There are features like that and also headlights that turn when you turn. There is a whole range of amazing things that are already being introduced into motor vehicles, but this next step of an autonomous motor vehicle is pretty amazing. To set up the environment where we can test them more and more I think is very welcome.
The bill has been on the agenda for quite a while. I was at an Australian Automobile Association conference quite a few years ago when the possibility of this happening was being talked about. Within a couple of years Google had its Google car out on the road in California. In some ways now it looks quite basic when you look at Mercedes, Tesla and some of the vehicles that are coming out looking incredibly new, smart and not at all clunky. The Google car had this great big thing on top like a robot that made it look very odd.
The RACV has been very active in this space for quite some time in working with various motor vehicle manufacturers to be at the forefront of what the industry can look like but also to look at what the environment in Victoria will need to be to allow these vehicles to operate. The RACV has been involved in a lot of the testing. I saw in an article from August this year that RACV drivers and engineers were testing automated vehicles on Melbourne freeways. This was on the Monash-CityLink-Tullamarine corridor. Whilst RACV vehicles program leader Ernest Litera was sitting in the car he was required to have a hand on the steering wheel because the laws at the moment do not provide for you to sit in a car without doing that. So all this testing still requires some level of human intervention.
In today's Age there is an article about the difficulty these cars are having with Melbourne's hook turns. It seems that the complexity of the hook turn in our city streets is very challenging for computer programmers, and they are looking at ways to overcome that. There are so many things they have ironed out, but this seems to be one on a global basis that remains a problem for them. I do not know whether Melbourne is the only place that has the hook turn, but it seems to be a great challenge.
The uses of these cars are just mind-boggling. I look to the fact that I have a husband who has glaucoma. His eyesight is deteriorating, and yet he still works full-time and travels around the region we live in to attend schools and clinics. The day will come when he will be told he will not be able to drive, and yet he will still be a productive member of society and will live in a regional area where being able to access something like an automated vehicle would be just an amazing thing in relation to his mobility and his ability to continue providing services.
I recall when my mother decided to give up her licence. Like all such decisions, it is hard to come to it. She has always made good decisions, so no-one had to heavy her in any way. Often making decisions about giving up your licence when you get older can be a real challenge for families. One does wonder whether automated vehicles will provide the opportunity for older people to go on driving way beyond the time the law might require them, or their good sense drives them, to give up their car and stop driving. For a lot of people isolation is a real issue. Access to a motor vehicle and the concept of shared motor vehicles create great opportunities for people in many areas — not only in regional areas — to be able to jointly access vehicles like this. In some ways it will be a very significant challenge to the taxi industry in the future, and we certainly understand that that has had a lot of challenges in recent times.
The Subaru is a car that I have recently had reason to drive. It is interesting to note all the features included. It alerts you if you stray from a lane. It keeps you at a certain distance from the car in front of you. The ability to have an automated vehicle when you drive long distances would be terrific. I must say, I have this vision of the many trips I make from Shepparton to Melbourne being autonomous so that I can be hands-off, sitting in the car reading documents, reading papers and being up-to-date. There is so much time lost behind the wheel of a motor vehicle when you live long distances away from the places you need to go. I know I often hear country people saying, wouldn't it be great if you could be sitting there having your breakfast, reading the paper and be in Melbourne 2 hours later? There are really great opportunities arising out of all of this.
I suppose the challenges that we still have in relation to autonomous vehicles are that despite the fact that we know that they are 90 per cent safer than the human in actually avoiding accidents and the like, they still have some weaknesses. There is a lack of trust in these vehicles because someone is not seen as being in control. The fact that we are putting this legislation in place is a wonderful thing and there is lots of testing going on out there now. I certainly welcome the day in the not-too-distant future when I will be sitting behind the wheel — I do not know if it will be a wheel, but whatever it is — to travel such long distances and not be exhausted at the end of the trip.
I often talk about passenger rail services. If there is one thing we need for Shepparton it is a fast train. That would solve many problems. Given the difficulties with that, I think we will probably be seeing autonomous cars on the road sooner than very fast trains, but we can certainly hope that we will have better train services much more quickly than that. The advantage of trains, as we all know, is that when you are sitting on a train you can get on with your work or you can be listening to things. It is an incredibly time-saving way of travelling.
I mentioned that 90 per cent figure before. I will read from the article that I was talking about in relation to human error. It says:
With human error contributing to more than 90 per cent of crashes, automated vehicles have enormous potential to reduce the road toll, and to help those with limited mobility travel more easily.
I am sure that when the road rules for autonomous cars come in we probably still will not be able to drive a car in situations where we might be wanting to sleep or we have overindulged in alcohol or the like. I think those road rules will still remain in place because it is very hard to imagine that you would not need to have some level of human control, but that is the challenge. These vehicles may turn out to be such that we can confidently sit back, switch off our minds from the driving task and let the vehicle do all the work. I commend the bill because it is taking us a step further into the future and probably frees us up for much better things.
Click here to view this record on Hansard.