The Federal minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development and deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack has been a busy man announcing a new Federal Office of Future Transport Technologies as well as signaling a review of National Road Safety Governance.
Mr McCormack has said the Federal Government is moving to bring some order to the testing and development of autonomous vehicle capability and has given the new Office of Future Transport Technologies an initially small $9.7million annual budget.
McCormack made the announcement in an address to a Roads Australia event in Sydney and said the office’s role would be to offer strategic leadership and co-ordinate with other governments and agencies on autonomous development and future road safety and transport outcomes.
The decision has been met with support from industry bodies including Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (HVIA) whose chief executive Todd Hacking said government investment in anticipating and enabling technologies that improve safety and productivity is crucial to managing Australia’s growing freight task.
“The Australian heavy vehicle industry has a culture of innovation highlighted by our high-productivity combinations and the Performance Based Standards scheme,” Mr Hacking said.
“We hope that an independent government office will consider all blockages to enabling the uptake of the safest and most productive possible vehicles, and ensuring they are given appropriate access to every city and every town.”
At the moment there is little co-ordination of the many autonomous projects currently being researched around the nation with various programs being run by research bodies, universities, state governments and private companies, spanning everything from semi autonomous vehicles to transport pods and coordination between them is often very ad hoc
“I expect the office to collaborate across governments to ensure automated vehicles are safe, to consider future infrastructure needs, to make sure cyber security safeguards are in place and to support Australian businesses in taking advantage of new commercial opportunities,” McCormack said.
HVIA also says that whilst there needs to be investment in developing the right policy settings, and ensuring infrastructure is in place to implement future transport technologies, more needs to be done to see the uptake of technologies that are available right now.
“The highest priority is to incentivise a reduction in the heavy vehicle fleet age and the uptake of safety technologies for heavy vehicles.”
“Australia has one of the oldest truck fleets in the western world at over 14 years, in fact, 16 per cent of the fleet or around 73,000 vehicles are aged between 15 and 22 years old.
“We know these vehicles are less safe than their modern counterparts and we know when a new safety feature is mandated by the Australian Design Rules it takes over 20 years to be universal in the heavy vehicle fleet.”
HVIA applauded State and Territory Ministers for declaring their intent to increase the deployment of Autonomous Emergency Braking in both heavy and light vehicles at a meeting in May.
“Recent analysis by Monash University Accident Research Centre suggests this technology could save 67 lives per annum,” Mr Hacking added.
Apart from the autonomous announcement, McCormack announced the Road Safety Strategy Review at a dinner in Sydney the night before an is one of 12 recommendations put forward by the independent inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, initiated by the Australian Government in September last year.
Mr McCormack said it was important for work on the Governance Review to start as soon as possible and that he would be discussing the scope of the review with state and territory ministers when the COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council has its first consideration of the Inquiry Report next month.
“I want to ensure broad consultation on the terms of reference, including with the Inquiry Panel and other stakeholders, ahead of release before the end of the year,” he said.
Delivering the Governance Review is a vital first step in following through on the NRSS inquiry’s 12 recommendations and progresses the Australian Government’s agenda to invest strategically in infrastructure, to ensure Australians and their families arrive at their destinations sooner and safer.
The first inquiry into progress of the NRSS highlighted areas for potential improvements which can reduce road deaths and trauma such as: road safety leadership, resourcing, performance monitoring, and innovative technology.
Meantime ANCAP Chief Executive, James Goodwin also acknowledged the national leadership shown by the Government in establishing the Future Transport Infrastructure Office and encouraged a collaborative and coordinated approach to ensure international and state consistency of regulation.
“As we move to an automated transport future, building consumer, industry and regulator confidence is key,” said Mr Goodwin.
“Automated vehicle technology is no longer the future, it is in today’s new cars, and as the building blocks for full automation the establishment of a dedicated office shows national leadership and confidence.”
“ANCAP is currently undertaking independent safety testing of Level 2 autonomous technologies including intelligent speed assistance, autonomous emergency braking and active lane-keep assistance.”
“Safety is a critical element which must carry through in all preparations for an autonomous future.”
“A dedicated office should concentrate on the regulatory and legal framework but also prioritise Australian testing and research capabilities.”
“While some of this work has already started, we will see the office of future transport technologies ramping up over the next few months to coordinate Australia’s responses to the challenges ahead.”
The National Transport Commission is also at the same time developing an end-to-end regulatory framework for the introduction of Autonomous vehicles by 2020.
Until that is concluded there is little prospect that autonomous vehicles will go much past Level 2 in Australia, where drivers are required to be always ready to take back control of the vehicle.
Many experts believe that Australia is lagging behind most developed nations when it comes to autonomous vehicles with just about every major civilised country having a proper framework in place for testing autonomous vehicles.
During his speech Mr McComack said that the future transport and mobility industry could generate more than $16 billion in revenue in the next seven years alone
Obviously safety is one of the most important positives about autonomy and it is expected to play a role in major part in reducing road accidents, which currently costs Australia around $27 billion per year with around 90 per cent of accidents caused by human error.