Autonomous Vehicles on the horizon for Australia

​​It is anticipated that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be hitting Australian roads in the next decade or two and RACT will be working to ensuring Tasmania is prepared for all future mobility options.

​There are a range of AV trials underway across Australian states, but at this current time Tasmania is the only state without a trial of its own.

But RACT, as part of its new mobility vision, plans to undertake research to fully understand the impact of autonomous vehicles and the associated impacts of these changes.

The Club is also ready to lead debate to ensure Tasmania keeps pace with changing technology, and prepares for the associated impacts on infrastructure, road taxes, legislation and community education.



The internationally-based Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has identified six levels of autonomous vehicles:

  • Level 0: No automation (present day vehicles where human driver controls all driving)
  • Level 1:Driver assistance (lane guidance, cruise control and parallel parking)
  • Level 2: Partial automation (adaptive cruise control and lane centering)
  • Level 3: Conditional automation (vehicles performing all critical safety functions)
  • Level 4:High automation (vehicles performing all the driving-related operations)
  • Level 5: Full automation (driverless vehicle with no steering wheel)

A recent Infrastructure Partnerships Australia report into autonomous and driverless vehicles discussed how they may operate.

Autonomous vehicles would incorporate: cameras to detect colours of lane markings, signs and traffic lights, LIDAR to create 3D rendering of vehicles, pedestrians, curbs and buildings through pulsed laser light, radar to detect obstacles and speeds and a computer to process the information and drive the vehicle.

There are two possibilities for AVs, including autonomous only vehicles (AOVs), which find their way using on-board sensors, or connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) which communicate with other vehicles and with road infrastructure.

While AOVs operate in isolation from other vehicles and the road network, CAVs will optimise travel choices for route, speed and location along the road network.

This involves CAVs using vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications, which enable vehicles to share data about their positions, as well as their future intentions such as turning or stopping movements.

This would allow vehicles to move close together while accelerating and stopping in uniform movements, thus reducing congestion.

However, a full rollout of the 5G network with significant data capacity would be needed to run these technologies as AVs rely on GPS and the internet for long-range systems. These systems include: accurate positioning, navigation data and up-to-date situational data, including vehicle communications, maps, road condition reports and emergency messages.

Additionally, there is a need for wireless and Wi-Fi networks to support short-range systems, including vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) near intersections and more built up areas. Wi-Fi connectivity both V2X and V2V will reduce the load on the main 5G network and can act as backup systems if it crashes.

The top AV developers include General Motors, Waymo, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Audi, Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Aptiv, the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi (alliance), Volvo as well as Peugeot and Citroen (PSA Group) and Toyota.


There a numerous benefits of autonomous vehicles, including:

  • Improved safety by eliminating human error as a factor in road crashes
  • More efficient road use as AVs move succinctly through connected technologies, keeping cars away from congested areas traffic and crashes
  • Allowing youth, disabled or elderly people the chance to be more easily mobile
  • The enhancement of worker productivity by eliminating the need to drive and navigate
  • A reduction of running costs through electric AVs compared to internal combustion engines
  • Removal or reduction of on-street parking and park and ride initiatives in place of drop off zones
  • Customised public transport journeys when required rather than a timetabled door-to-door service.


Autonomous vehicles also have their challenges, including:

  • Law changes regarding the definition of who is in control of a vehicle, based on consistency of road rules. Laws need to be consistent from the international community, down to Australia and finally each state. This enables AVs to be driven anywhere across the country and fall under the same rules.
  • Ethical issues arising from changing laws, including crash liabilities as vehicles are self-driving, or how an operating system would decide to deal with a crash scenario involving the occupant, other motorists, cyclists or pedestrians.
  • Physical and digital infrastructure that allows AOVs to read signage, and connected technology at intersections so CAVs can operate.
  • The need to replace 4G with the higher-speed/capacity 5G technology to effectively guide vehicles. Short range wireless and Wi-Fi networks can operate separately from 5G to enable vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure signalling. However this is a short-range solution, meaning a central network will be needed to communicate past that range.
  • In the future, the 5G network will be available in major Tasmanian centres and main roads like the Midlands or Bass highways. However, outside these areas AVs will find it difficult - in the short to medium term - to navigate at reasonable highway speeds due to lack of this technology.
  • Failures of the 5G network would create the need for backup wireless or Wi-Fi systems, which are less powerful, to help AVs navigate in certain areas.
  • Data privacy and security and the need to clarify laws about data collection regarding user journeys.
  • Security of infrastructure to prevent breaches and corruption of the network. For example, the corruption of traffic light readings to cause crashes.
  • Securing community trust regarding AV safety.
  • Crash testing needs to focus not only on front-facing passengers but those seated side on.


In November 2016, the Federal Government agreed to a phased reform program so that conditionally automated vehicles can operate legally on Australian roads before 2020, and highly and fully automated vehicles from 2020.

The National Transport Commission is in the midst of developing this legislative roadmap, which is expected to be delivered this year. It will include implementation of AV trial guidelines, clarifying control of AVs, safety assurance systems, driver reforms to support AVs, exemption powers, a compulsory third party insurance review and gaining access to automated vehicle data.

The NTC identifies numerous potential barriers to AVs in Australia that surround the need to change laws requiring a driver to have proper control of a vehicle.

Other key issues surround physical and digital infrastructure and road operations, as mentioned above.

The NTC and Austroads last year released its trial guidelines for state and territory road agencies. They supported the provision of exemptions or permits for trials, meaning the Tasmanian Government could grant exemptions for AV testing.

RACT actively participates in discussions and reviews of proposed changes to legislation through the Australian Automobile Association.

While Tasmania is yet to have a trial of its own, there are a variety of AV trials across all Australian states and territories as well as overseas that you can view below.


Australia is opening its eyes to autonomous vehicles, with trials now widespread across the country. Here is a snapshot of the trial landscape.

Western Australia

  • The Intellibus trial began in Perth in 2016 as Australia's first automated vehicle trial.
  • Later in 2018 the Navya Autonom - a fully automated and on demand, shared mobility vehicle that uses sensors to map the environment, avoid obstacles and make decisions – will arrive in Perth. The WA capital will be one of the world's first cities to trial the French vehicle.
  • Curtin University is also trialling a commercial driverless bus.


  • A year-long autonobus trial at La Trobe University's Bundoora campus in Melbourne recently tested student mobility through an Arma-4 model Navya shuttle bus. La Trobe researchers found the bus performed above expectations in complex environments and could be rolled out across Australia. A report recommended governments begin planning for AVs through infrastructure and education.
  • A YarraTrams trial of connected technologies with AVs that give trams priority at signalised intersections.
  • Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem trial, which involves testing autonomous vehicle technology in urban environments around Melbourne.
  • ConnectEast AV trial on Melbourne's EastLink toll road, which tested cars equipped with automated driving features.
  • TRANSURBAN AV trial on the Monash-Citylink-Tullamarine corridor.
  • Also in Victoria, Bosch and VicRoads have partnered to build the first self-driving vehicle in Australia. It would navigate without driver input and includes technology to avoid pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.

South Australia

In 2016, South Australia established a three-year $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund for projects to support research of vehicle technologies. The fund has bolstered a number of projects, including:

  • The current trial of a shuttle bus trial at Adelaide Airport, and a driverless pod trial from November that involves the transporting of goods at the Tonsley precinct.
  • A five-year driverless 'last mile' park and ride shuttle trial at Flinders University.
  • Cohda Wireless receiving two grants totalling about $2 million to conduct on-road trial projects in Adelaide that test how vehicles communicate with one another and with roadside infrastructure.
  • American company Local Motors and Sage Automation conducting a last mile driverless shuttle and interactive transportable bus stop trial at near Glenelg. The shuttle, named Olli, will become available to the public around September.

New South Wales

  • The Sydney Motorways Automated Vehicle trial by the NSW Government is trialling automated vehicles with life-saving technology on Sydney's major motorways.
  • NSW Transport is seeking to trial emerging connected and automated vehicle technology in rural areas during the second half of this year.
  • The first trial of an automated shuttle bus will be conducted over two years at Sydney Olympic Park, with a second shuttle trial at Coffs Harbour and Armidale to start at the end of this year.
  • The NSW Centre for Road Safety is undertaking a trial of heavy vehicle safety applications using the Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative on trucks, buses and cars in the Illawarra area.
  • The Freight Signal Priority project, announced in 2016, is trialling infrastructure to provide heavy vehicle priority at signalised intersections.


  • The Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative will incorporate a large scale AV pilot at Ipswich next year, with a smaller pilot of highly automated vehicles on selected roads to also take place.
  • A Driverless Shuttle bus Trial was undertaken in late 2017 and early 2018 at Cairns, Mooloolaba, Ipswich and Cleveland.
  • Australia Post trialled an autonomous parcel delivery service in Brisbane last November. New Farm residents had parcels delivered to their door by a self-driving robot for four weeks.

Northern Territory

  • The Northern Territory Government completed a six-month trial of an EasyMile shuttle bus at the Darwin Waterfront last year, with a second phase being explored.

Australian Capital Territory

  • The ACT Government teamed up with Canberra company Seeing Machines in December to conduct a two year trial that involves testing a driver monitoring system on a test track. The drivers will control semi-automated vehicles for up to two weeks at a time, with the trial to consider how drivers behave when operating the vehicles in both manual and partially automated driving modes.


Globally, autonomous vehicles are far more advanced than in Australia. Take a look at the international state of play.


  • The Japanese Government has committed US$16.3 million per year from 2016, to develop maps and enabling technologies that will permit AVs to enter public roads by 2020.
  • The Chinese Government will legalise AVs by 2021, with plans to develop vehicles between 2016 and 2030 and for driverless vehicles to be available between 2021 and 2025 as part of the "Made in China 2025" plan. Several cities have also passed legislation to enable AV trials.
  • Korea has been pushing its own AV development, with trials on some public roads as part of a goal to have technology ready for sale by 2020.
  • Singapore launched an on-road trial of its "nuTonomy" autonomous technology and taxi service in 2016, while AV tests on public roads started in 2015.


  • Swedish city Gothenburg and Volvo expect to introduce 100 driverless vehicles on the public road network soon, with a trial to see if the vehicles self-park by self-navigating without drivers.
  • The UK has adopted its AV trial legislation meaning vehicles can be tested on public roads without a human operator. UK town Milton Keynes hosted a trial of an AV in 2016 and 2017, with trials in Coventry last year.
  • France allows permit-based testing with a backup driver and has plans for full driverless vehicle testing on public roads next year.
  • Germany passed a law last year to allow AV testing with a backup driver.
  • Helsinki, in Finland, has played host to driverless buses with a view to have them as a viable alternative to personal car ownership.
  • The Netherlands Government has opened public roads to trials of autonomous cars and trucks.

United States

  • Since 2012, at least 41 states and the District of Columbia have considered draft legislation related to fully autonomous vehicles, and some have enacted enabling laws. However, some states have decided on different regulations.
  • Michigan is allowing companies to test self-driving cars on public roads without a driver or a steering wheel.
  • California is preparing for driverless vehicles by removing the existing circular non-reflective raised road markers, and adding thicker lane markings in their place. More than 50 companies have obtained a licence to test AVs in the state.
  • Arizona, Ohio and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania also now allow AV testing on public roads.