Time to prepare rules for self-driving cars, says Transport Ministry
Several of the taxi-app Uber's driverless cars could be seen navigating the streets of Pittsburgh, Wednesday, as the company's self-driving pilot programme was unveiled during a demonstration of the latest automotive technolo
Self-driving cars are likely to suddenly arrive in large numbers in New Zealand cities in about three to five years, the Transport Ministry says.
A briefing provided to Transport Minister Phil Twyford raises the prospect that autonomous vehicles could proliferate as quickly as Lime e-scooters, leaving regulators with little time to decide what rules should apply.
But the public will soon get an opportunity to provide their views to the Government.
The ministry said it planned to draft a discussion paper for public consultation setting out the "key regulatory issues" later this year.
Steve Moe, a lawyer with Parry Field Lawyers in Christchurch, agreed New Zealand's confusing experience with e-scooters could repeat itself if the government groundwork wasn't done.
The Transport Ministry will prepare a discussion document on rules for autonomous vehicles this year.
He co-authored a research paper with former Uber worker Mitchell Gingrich on autonomous vehicles in December and believed the ministry's time scale of three to five years for the mass arrival of driverless cars was realistic.
"There is so much research being done by so many large companies with big budgets and I don't think everything that is happening is being shown in public.
"We want to be ready before they come because we don't want to have arguments about how it is going to look as it happens."
The Transport Ministry said there were two different ways autonomous vehicles would catch up on.
The sudden deluge would come from fleets of fully autonomous cars or "robo-taxies" designed to serve cities and towns, the ministry said.
"When they do arrive, they are likely to be deployed quickly in large numbers.
A self-driving car has navigated the streets of Singapore.
"We may have relatively short notice prior to their deployment."
The other mechanism would be through the gradual incorporation of more self-driving features into people's family cars, a process that the ministry noted had already begun in new Telsa cars.
It would probably be 10 years or more before "level 5" self-driving cars that could operate in any environment, outside major cities and towns, took off, it said.
The officials said the benefits of autonomous vehicles were currently uncertain and it was important the Government started to explain to the public and the industry how they might be regulated.
"Some experts claim that autonomous vehicles may increase road safety, reduce the road toll, reduce congestion and - assuming they are electric - reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"However, there is much uncertainty around the implications of deploying autonomous vehicles on roads, primarily due to the fact these vehicles are only at the testing and trialling phase in most countries."
Safety, accident liability, hacking, and social and economic ramifications are among the issues that are likely to be canvassed in a Transport Ministry discussion document on driverless cars.
Road safety, the risk of hacking and liability for accidents would be among the issues the Government would need to address, they said.
Moe believed that, as an intermediate step, it was possible autonomous cars might be allowed to travel in driverless mode to collect passengers, perhaps only along approved roads, but that drivers might want or be required to be in control of them when they were inside.
"It is going to take time to gain trust," he said.