OPINION: We deserve better than a driverless future

Everyone's talking about driverless cars being just around the corner: but "when is when"?  

Talk to Telsa owners and they'll tell you their car can already go from "A to B without me" and might have sneakily already done so.  

According to a new federal parliamentary report that looks into the impact of driverless vehicles - or autonomous vehicles, as they prefer to call them - autonomous vehicles might be on our roads by 2020.  

The report is important because it reveals the breadth of thought being given to the potentially massive impact of autonomous vehicles on the way we move as a community, including in business and community circles.  

Some state governments have forged ahead with acting on this issue. South Australia has already passed legislation to start driverless car trials.  

This latest report is a solid contribution, raising a range of important questions, including:  

Will all levels of government coordinate on developing consistent regulations and setting up driverless vehicle trials?   

What privacy and data storage policy needs to be developed to address the large amount of data produced by these vehicles?    

When thinking about roads filling with driverless vehicles, issues like comfort, ease of travel and safety spring to mind.  

What about jobs? What happens to the roughly 250,000 Australians who owe their living to driving; truck drivers, bus drivers and taxi drivers? They will obviously be thinking about their jobs in the future.  

Then there are job implications many people wouldn't necessarily think of.  

For instance, if the stats are to be believed, the safety of autonomous vehicles may significantly reduce accidents.   International research shows human error is a factor in 90 per cent of road accidents. 

  Already lower level autonomous features are improving safety - in the US automatic braking reduced rear-end crashes by about 40 per cent in 2016. The rate of injuries reduced 42 per cent.   

So if autonomous vehicles put a huge dent in the number of accidents we experience in this country, whose job might be altered?  

Will we need fewer highway police officers? How will emergency departments be impacted?  

If we are so much more open to buying things online, at what point do we start thinking: do I really need to see a salesperson about buying a car?   

What's the impact on thousands of people employed in Australia to help you make the decision about a major investment like this?  

This has been a critical issue in my mind for sometime - not just an acceptance that technology is going to trigger a radical jobs shake up, grabbing both the blue and white collar in ways that haven't necessarily been experienced previously.  

The bigger issue is: preparedness.

  As my colleague and committee member Solomon MP Luke Gosling said when speaking to the report, it's well past time for governments to think about the future of work.

This driverless vehicle report requires government consider what skills will be useful in future, which jobs may be lost and where the new opportunities for jobs will arise.  

And this will be the stuff that challenges politicians to think beyond the daily skirmishes and engage in long term planning about training not just future generations - but looking after people whose jobs will be progressively and fundamentally altered by tech.  

Individually we're going to need to be ready not just to change jobs between companies - but change the type of job we do.    

This is a huge challenge for the way we obtain and develop our own personal skills base.   Talking about "lifelong learning" used to be the rage but it's going to become a reality.  

The question is how we make this happen.    

In an environment where funds are actively being cut from schools, TAFEs and unis - along with the fact the nation has no comprehensive take on what the future of work is going to look like or how we will prepare for it - means we are already well and truly behind the eight ball.

We can prepare for a future where cars can drive themselves.  

But there's no way we should remain unprepared for a future where the concept of how we get and hold on to our jobs may radically be different to today.  

Ed Husic is the Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and the Future of Work.

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