29 Oct 2015

Rise of the machines: New legislation may enable trials of driverless cars in SA

by Steven Murray, Andrew Fry, Jessica Lee

The South Australian Bill can apply to any technology relating to "advances in the design or construction of motor vehicles".

No longer a prospect of the future, driverless technologies are fast becoming a reality in Australia with the introduction of the Motor Vehicles (Trials of Automotive Technologies) Amendment Bill to the South Australian House of Assembly.

The Bill, introduced in September, proposes to amend the Motor Vehicles Act 1959 (SA) to allow on-road trials of driverless vehicles in South Australia, and to exempt such trials from select laws. The Bill has potential application beyond driverless technology and can apply to any technology relating to "advances in the design or construction of motor vehicles".

Under the Bill, trials of automotive technology may be authorised by the Minister for Transport and Planning, by notice published in the Government Gazette. The notice must set out details of the trial, such as the area where the trial may take place, the trial period and the scope and nature of the trial. The Minister must also publish details of the trial on a website determined by the Minister.

Companies conducting trials will need to have in place appropriate public liability insurance policies for the trial. They may also be granted exemptions from select laws by the Minister, upon application to the Minister or on the Minister's own initiative. Such exemptions can include conditions imposed by the Minister, and failure to comply with any of these conditions can attract a fine of up to $2,500, in addition to prosecution in respect of the law to which the exemption relates.

The Bill includes some protections for companies conducting trials, by requiring the Minister to take reasonable steps to prevent commercially sensitive information from being made public; and imposing penalties for persons who hinder or obstruct a trial without reasonable excuse, including interfering with any trial equipment, of up to $10,000.

The Minister is required to prepare a report in relation to the trial within six months after the trial is completed, which must be tabled in Parliament.

The South Australian Government hopes the Bill will put South Australia on the map for the driverless vehicle industry, which is projected to be worth $90 billion in 15 years. Technology and automotive companies such as Google, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Tesla Motors have been testing driverless vehicle technologies over the past few years. Telstra, Bosch and Volvo will be participating in the first Australian driverless vehicle trials, to be conducted on the Southern Expressway in South Australia in early November 2015.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.