National guidelines released for automated vehicle trials in Australia

National guidelines released for automated vehicle trials in Australia

The National Transport Commission (NTC) in Australia and Austroads released Guidelines for trials of automated vehicles in Australia, as a joint publication.

In November 2016 Australian transport and infrastructure ministers requested that NTC and Austroads develop national guidelines for trials of automated vehicles in Australia, so that so that conditionally automated vehicles can operate safely and legally on Australian roads before 2020, and highly and fully automated vehicles from 2020.

These guidelines are intended to promote Australia as a testbed for automated vehicle technology. They will also help trialling organisations to ensure safety. The guidelines aim to provide clear guidance on matters that should be addressed by trialling organisations as part of the trialling process for both light and heavy automated vehicles.

They have been drafted to accommodate a range of different automated vehicle technologies and applications, taking into account differences. For example, the risks posed by the trial of a single, low-speed, driverless shuttle on a set route is significantly different from the risks for a trial of a fleet of heavy vehicles on a motorway. The national guidelines also aim to allow information sharing, where appropriate, about trial and research outcomes.

Instead of embedding trial requirements in legislation, these guidelines provide a performance-based framework that supports innovation and gives certainty to governments and industry alike.

Trialling organisations must comply with all relevant Australian laws unless a specific exemption or permit has been granted by the relevant road transport agency (RTA).

The proposed trial location, which could be specific roads, routes or regions, must be clearly set out. RTAs will consider the location suitability for an automated vehicle trial, depending on factors such as the type and level of automation; any safety considerations relevant to the road network such as proximity to built-up areas; speed limits; and traffic congestion.

Trialling organisations must provide a high-level description of the technology being trialled in their Application, so that RTAs can reasonably assess the safety risks of the trial.

Organisations must also provide a traffic management plan to inform RTAs of the trial’s anticipated traffic risks and mitigating actions. In addition, RTAs must be informed of any infrastructure or network requirements for the trial. RTAs may be able to provide support or assistance in managing any changes to infrastructure (such as roadworks).

The organisations must set out how they intend to engage with the public and other key stakeholders (local government authorities, road user groups, emergency services, infrastructure managers and public transport providers) as part of the trial.

The organisations are required to explain how they intend to manage changes to the vehicle (software or hardware upgrades) or infrastructure over the course of a trial.

Appropriate insurance would be required to protect against the risks associated with the trial. It could include compulsory third-party insurance, comprehensive vehicle insurance,  public liability insurance etc.

A safety management plan must be created outlining all key relevant safety risks for the trial and how they will be mitigated or eliminated.This includes things like the security of the automated system to defend against hacking of a system to take control of the vehicle or access any personal information and System failure, due to hardware failures, software errors or human errors, which is a key risk for any new technology. Vulnerable road users will need to be considered carefully as part of the safety management of all trials taking place on public roads. Trialling organisations are supposed to consider the impact of their trial on existing infrastructure and have an appropriate transition processes for vehicles that can move between automated and human driving modes.

Trialling organisations must abide by existing crash reporting requirements of the state or territory in which they are conducting their trial. They must also report other incidents to the relevant road transport agency on a monthly basis, including near misses or public complaints regarding the performance of the vehicle.

The guidelines will be reviewed every two years. NTC is still looking at clarifying regulatory concepts of control and proper control for different levels of driving automation. That report is expected to be released by November 2017.

Read the guidelines document here.

Featured image: Deer Park Bypass eastbound at Western Ring Road. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (by Marcus Wong/ CC BY-SA 3.0)