Thursday, 15 June 2017 10:33

The peak body for carmakers in Australia has poured cold water on the rush for fully autonomous cars, telling a government hearing that vehicles which require no input from drivers are "a fair way off".

Ashley Wells, director of policy for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, told a Federal Government committee examining driverless vehicles that the technology will continue to be phased in slowly by carmakers in coming years.

Wells says it will be a long time before Australian roads are dominated by self-driving cars, and that there is plenty of work to be done upgrading local infrastructure before autonomous vehicles are commonplace.

"It's going to take a long time before we have a substantive shift," he says.

"We're going to have a mixed fleet for a very long time."

The FCAI says the government needs to establish national standards for road markings and signs that gel with international requirements for autonomous vehicles. At present, some features offered by the likes of Mercedes are disabled in Australia. For example, adaptive cruise control systems that read speed signs could react to the "40" symbol on the back of a bus travelling along a motorway, triggering a dangerous reduction in speed from from 110km/h to 40km/h.

Wells says full autonomy is "a fair way off", and that the motoring industry as a collective does not have a final answer as to who should hold responsibility in the event of a crash involving self-driving cars.

Volvo is on the record saying it will accept responsibility in some circumstances, while BMW does not have a definitive answer to that question.

The FCAI's position on self-driving cars differs from Roads Australia, which released a controversial report this week claiming that all new cars will be fully autonomous within 10 years.

A third view was espoused by the Bus Industry Confederation of Australia this week.

Michael Apps, executive director of the BIC, told the same government inquiry that cars are likely to be shunned by Australian commuters as future transport solutions take shape.

"The car as 'not being essential' is a core driver of this revolution in transport," he says.

"We see that the bus has a strategic role. For mobility to work, a good public transport network has to be at its core, otherwise we are not going to be addressing the challenges that we are trying to address when it comes to our cities such as congestion management, social inclusion or exclusion, road safety, personal health and the environmental footprint of transport.

"There are a large number of people that we need to continue to move on public transport, bus and particular – and rail – to ensure our cities don't come to a standstill."

Describing the Roads Australia autonomous vehicles report as "very brave", Apps says "Autonomous vehicles are a long way off" and that conventional buses are the best way to "meet the mobility needs of a growing population and an ageing implication".

The bus industry says most passengers like to have a driver on board as a supervisor for the service, and that public transport solutions may involve people paid to ride along to address customer service and security needs.

"We may see driverless buses, but more than unlikely our view is not," he says.

"I'm not sure that people are going to become accustomed to speaking to their bus about whether they are on the right bus."

Apps is optimistic about the future employment of bus drivers. He says that even if bus drivers were to be phased out, the industry's high average age would likely lead to a natural retirement of driving staff as opposed to widespread layoffs.

Source: www.drive.com.au , 31 May 2017

 

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