Next time you take a toll road in Melbourne, you could be travelling next to a self-driving vehicle. It is a new trial in Victoria, run by VicRoads, Transurban, the Victoria Police and the RACV. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo will supply the vehicles. While it sounds risky, there will be a driver with one hand on the wheel.
In this trial, self-driving refers to level 2 autonomy (level 1 is no autonomy and level 5 is complete autonomy). Level 2 means the vehicle can act for short periods without the driver’s help. It includes adaptive cruise control, staying in the lane, autonomous emergency braking and recognising traffic signs. Many vehicles already have these features.
One important aim of the trial is to find out how these vehicles deal with unexpected situations.
Regular driving can include going through tunnels, seeing warning signs, dealing with overhead signs, and receiving Bluetooth messages. But what about a sudden change of road surface, or an animal crossing the road? Another challenge is to get round roadworks. VicRoads says these are “a semi-permanent feature of [any] successful city”.
Different points of view
The organisations involved in the trial have different ideas about what they want to achieve:
- The Minister says the safest places to test self-driving cars are on toll roads and says new roads will be built for these vehicles
- VicRoads says the trial offers “potential … full productive use of our road system”
- Victorian Police would like to use self-driving data, reduce pursuits and intercept these vehicles more safely.
Look for the results of the Victorian trial on ctpinsurance.com.au. Of course, any legislation for self-driving vehicles must fit with laws in other states and territories or be national.
Meanwhile, with all the excitement about self-driving car technology, is it possible we’re still forgetting the human factor?