Australia leads the world in regulatory support for autonomous vehicles, but has some work to do to catch up to other countries’ overall readiness for the driverless transition, says a recent report.
Despite innovative autonomous vehicle trials and enabling technology, including super-accurate satellite navigation and the Internet of Things, Australia has dropped one place to number 15 in the 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI).
The index scored 25 countries on their preparedness to transition to driverless transport in areas including policy, technology, infrastructure and consumer acceptance.
Australia’s scores were 9 for infrastructure, 12 for both consumer acceptance and policy and legislation, and 17 for technology and innovation. Australia was ranked first in the world for regulations supporting autonomous vehicles, and third for the availability of high-performance mobile internet.
The AVRI was first published by professional services giant KPMG last year. Since then, the company’s global head of infrastructure, Richard Threlfall, said there has been “a huge acceleration” in autonomous vehicle investment, policy incentives and media attention.
The Netherlands has retained the top spot in the rankings, and Singapore is steady in second place. New to the list this year are Norway (3), Finland (6), Israel (14), the Czech Republic (19) and Hungary (21). Our trans-Tasman neighbours, New Zealand, have dropped from 9 in 2018 to 11 in this year’s list.
Threlfall said that many of the overall scores were very close. The report suggested Australia’s performance could be boosted by the technology investments being made by individual states, as well as the formation of the Federal Government’s Office for Future Transport Technologies in October last year, which will help with national coordination efforts.
“The most successful countries have a policy framework that enables innovation, a strong track record in technology, high-quality road and digital infrastructure, and populations that are eager to adopt new technologies,” Threlfall added.
Racing the clock
In 2017, public and private sector representatives of the road industry agreed that to meet the pace of technological advancement, Australian authorities needed to be ready to support safe deployment of partially automated vehicles by 2020, and highly automated and driverless transport before 2030.
And the autonomous revolution extends to public transport as well as private vehicles. Last year, the Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Innovation, Alan Tudge, instigated an inquiry into automated mass transit. Public hearings were held in several states in February (the inquiry report was yet to be released at time of writing).
According to Professor Graham Currie from Monash University, who presented at the Melbourne hearing, automated, driverless railways could offer lower operating costs, increased capacity and more frequent services.
However, he added that allowing passengers to safely enter and exit required careful management. Currie has also been working with Singaporean transport authorities to investigate the feasibility of autonomous mass transit.
“As EVs [electric vehicles] and AVs [autonomous vehicles] become more ubiquitous, greater focus is needed on energy policy and road pricing as governments seek to deal with new energy demand patterns and replace revenues as traditional fuel consumption is reduced,” explained Praveen Thakur, a transport and infrastructure partner with KPMG Australia.
While Australia still has some work to do to improve their world ranking for autonomous vehicle readiness, Threlfall stated the main driver for establishing the AVRI was to raise awareness of the benefits of adopting driverless transport.
These include lower road tolls, improved accessibility for elderly and young people, as well as those with disabilities, and economic growth.
“By sharing the best national achievements, I hope the AVRI will continue to accelerate the pace of this revolution,” he added.