The practicality and logistics involved in the legalisation of autonomous trucks has a long way to go.
The practicality and logistics involved in the legalisation of autonomous trucks has a long way to go.

Drivers will need new licence to go driverless

NEW driving tests and licences will be needed as cars become smarter, road safety experts warn.

And autonomous vehicles might require dedicated lanes to stop drivers crashing into them.

"We are witnessing probably the greatest rate of change we've ever seen in the motor industry," RACQ head of technical and safety policy Steve Spalding said.

"It's much further advanced than people realise. Cars have high levels of driver assistance even today. Tesla already has high levels of advanced self-driving capability.

"Given that a typical car has a life of, say, 20 years, cars bought today will still be on the road in 2030, but it's fair to say that in 15 years' time, vehicles that have high levels of self-driving capability will be on the roads in large numbers. That's not just driver assistance but autonomous vehicles.

"As the network starts to host both manual cars and those with varying levels of self-driving, what needs to be sorted out is how they will interact."

The general assumption was that licences would not be needed once autonomous vehicles arrived.

"But what people are not considering is that in the interim, we will have very advanced cars and it may well be that drivers need a higher level of knowledge than now to operate them safely."

Comparing future motorists to pilots, Mr Spalding said different tests and graduated licences could be required, according to the level of technology in the car.  

The Transport Department's general manager of land transport safety, Dennis Walsh, said the National Transport Commission was looking at the issue.

"The jury is still out on what will be required,'' he said.

Dr Mark King from QUT's Centre for Road Safety and Accident Research agreed there could be a need for new licensing, which several countries were looking into.

Future generations of drivers would have little or no hands-on experience, but they might be required to intervene and take control of vehicles in some circumstances.

Wes Ballantine, Queensland general manager for toll roads operator Transurban Group, said separate lanes were likely to be needed for driverless or semi-autonomous cars, for an interim period at least. Tests in the US had resulted in several crashes.

"But all of the accidents have been people running into the back of these (driverless cars)," Mr Ballantine said.

"If you're driving on a suburban street and you see a cat walk out in front of you and you've got a truck behind you, we as humans will go, 'that's too close, sorry pussy'.

But the autonomous vehicle will see something and stop, so things run into the back of them."

A trial of four different levels of cars being run in Melbourne found the cameras on one vehicle were unable to "see" overhead signs warning the speed limit had been reduced and kept going at the higher speed.

Others had difficulty registering lane paint that was clearly visible to the human eye.

Australia's largest on-road trial of connected vehicles will be undertaken in Ipswich over the next four years, using 500 cars retrofitted with intelligent systems.

News Corp Australia

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