Fully autonomous vehicles — cars which don’t require steering wheels or brake pedals — are likely to appear on Australian roads within eight years.

The prediction is made in an 86-page whitepaper released by the NRMA this week, which sets out a timeline for the roll out of driverless vehicles in Australia.

Autonomous vehicles are classified from level zero to five, as defined by criteria set out by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Level two – semi-autonomous vehicles are on the roads today and automate some aspects of driving.

The Future of Car Ownership forecasts vehicles with level three automation (conditional automation) will be available next year when the Audi A8 enters the market. This enables the car to undertake most operational tasks itself, such as steering and braking, with human oversight.

The big jump forward occurs at level four where the driver is only required to interact with the car to take over controls in certain situations. These vehicles will begin appearing in Australia within three years, according to the report.

Level four has been criticised because it still requires a transition period between the car and the human driver. Given that people are terrible at monitoring passive tasks it has been argued that this handover period actually makes driving less safe and OEMs should bypass level four and go straight to level five.

NRMA The Future of Car Ownership
Source: NRMA The Future of Car Ownership

The report’s recommendations centre around the need for Australia to put the correct regulation in place to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on our roads. A 2016 report from the National Transport Commission (NTC) found that more than 700 laws and regulations are likely to need to be amended in order to allow autonomous vehicles on Australian roads.

“Australia is not ready for the mobility revolution and we need to be,” said Kyle Loades, NRMA Chairman.

“The impact of autonomous vehicles will be profound to the point that it is hard to imagine a section of Australia that won’t be affected. The NRMA’s Future of Car Ownership report outlines the steps we need to take as a nation to maximise the benefits of this mobility revolution.”

The report recommends all levels of government should OK autonomous vehicle trials and start them as soon as possible. It also urges the Australian Government should actively promote Australia as a destination of choice for autonomous vehicle trials.

Over the longer term, Australian governments should seek to implement legislation to support autonomous vehicles, and consider changes to longer term transport and land-use policies. At the same time, a national approach to raising public awareness and confidence in autonomous technology should be pursued, the report argues.

As for the need for drivers licences in the future, the report recommends road safety agencies across Australia should work together to examine whether alternative driver licensing schemes are needed in the short term, including better training with semi and fully autonomous technology.

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