South Australia approves on-road driverless car trials

South Australia has become the first state in Australia to put laws in place to allow on-road trials of driverless cars.

The South Australian government has on Thursday approved on-road trials of driverless cars on the state's roads.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan said companies looking to trial technologies on South Australia's roads will simply have to submit plans of the proposed trial and have sufficient insurances to protect themselves and the public.

"These laws have received praise from companies at the forefront of this industry, which is estimated to be worth AU$90 billion within 15 years," Mullighan said.

"South Australia is now positioned to become a key player in this emerging industry and by leading the charge, we are opening up countless new opportunities for our businesses and our economy."

The introduction of the laws in South Australia comes as officials from the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) are in the Netherlands taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge.

"ADVI is investigating the benefits for truck platooning, there is the potential to deliver significant benefits for the heavy vehicle industry, which cover long distances between communities and other capital cities," Rita Excell from ADVI said.

"Truck platooning could deliver safer and more efficient transport operations and improve traffic flows. The laws have paved the way for trials to happen in South Australia and have seen other states follow our lead by beginning to consider the benefits that connected and autonomous technologies could provide."

Mullighan said the passage of the legislation allowed for companies to apply to trial driverless car technology on public roads in South Australia.

"By being the first state in Australia to pass these laws we are sending a very clear message to this industry that South Australia is open for business," he said.

In November last year, the South Australian government and national independent road research agency ARRB Group successfully carried out the country's first driverless car trial on Adelaide's Southern Expressway. The trial involved two Volvo XC90 vehicles that demonstrated automatic lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and active queue assist.

The state's Premier Jay Weatherill was a passenger in one of the vehicles and said his experience during the ride was very "smooth". He said he felt safe the entire time, adding that he was able to do his work on his lap and check his email on his iPhone.

"I could tell the technology has provided a complete controlled and safe environment so I didn't have any concerns at all," he said. "In fact, it's interesting how quickly you get used to the notion that the car is really just driving itself."

"At any time you can grab control of the car, so it's not as if something goes catastrophically wrong you can't get hold of the car and get back control again; there are lots of redundancies built into the technology to make sure it remains safe."

The ARRB Group announced its intentions to run the trial last July, saying at the time that it was in discussions with other Australian governments to run similar trials.

"Driverless cars have a range of benefits that could significantly improve road safety and the quality of life of everyday Australians, add to the nation's economic competitiveness, and help relieve rapidly growing congestion that is crippling our infrastructure and creating productivity deficits in our capital cities," ARRB Group managing director Gerard Waldron said at the time.

Following a test drive in the self-driving Tesla model S car, New South Wales Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts said earlier this year he intended to bring autonomous cars to the state, saying autonomous electric cars were the "future of driving" in NSW.

Western Australia will also be testing autonomous vehicles, with a driverless and fully electric shuttle bus set to take to Perth roads later this year.

Also on Thursday, the South Australian opposition announced its intention to introduce legislation to allow ridesharing services such as UberX to operate in the state.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said ridesharing is an opportunity to increase competition, provide more choice, and improve transport reliability and customer service to the state.

"This is about giving commuters the choice they want when it comes to transport options in South Australia," Marshall said. "It's also about creating much-needed jobs."

The state government recently carried out a review of transport options, including ridesharing services, but is yet to release the results or any plans for change.

As part of proposed changes, the opposition said taxis will retain exclusive rights to rank and hail services, and the state government will be urged to impose a four-year moratorium on the issuing of taxi plates.

Marshall said South Australia needed a transport system that was responsive to the changing needs of commuters.

"This is an exciting opportunity and we must act now to catch the innovation wave and avoid being left behind," he said.

If SA gives the nod to Uber, it will join New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in allowing the service. At midnight on December 18, 2015, the NSW government gave the green light to ridesharing services, allowing the likes of Uber to operate on the state's roads, coming in second to the Australian Capital Territory as the only states or territories to legalise the service.

The Northern Territory, however, is not expecting Uber drivers to legally cruise Darwin's streets any time soon, with the NT government announcing reforms to its taxi industry last month, saying it "will not be making any regulatory changes authorising point to point ridesharing transport services".

The NT government did say, however, that it would be monitoring the other jurisdictions across Australia where unauthorised ridesharing has been operating.

With AAP

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