Parliament: Speeches on Bills

Motor Vehicles (Trials of Automotive Technologies) Amendment Bill

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: On behalf of Dignity for Disability, and on top of the comments that have already been made, I am happy to support this bill to let South Australia have trials of driverless cars. Even though we usually think of driverless cars at the moment as being something new, I understand that this technology has been researched for some 30 years so far, but it has only recently reached the point where people are becoming interested in it and understanding it more and more in many different countries across the world.

I understand that this bill is a very small interim step to make sure that we can legally allow tests of driverless cars on roads in South Australia, and I think it is important to support this idea because I think the change in technology could have lots of benefits for everyone in our community, even especially for people with disabilities. These benefits may also apply not only to users of driverless cars but to all taxpayers, to all users of roads and to the environment.

I understand that some people are quite nervous about the idea of driverless cars as they think that a machine could make mistakes, and of course it could, but so can humans. I have been told, as I think the Hon. Mr Hood said, that at least 90 per cent of current car accidents are caused by human mistakes, and various statistics in different parts of the world have arrived at different conclusions about this. Nevertheless, anyone who has received or witnessed the tragic news of a death or injury on South Australian roads will, I am sure, conclude that human error does play a part. Human error, such as not paying attention, speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, does play a big part in how frequently we see accidents on South Australian roads.

Technology like driverless cars appears to have the potential to reduce the likelihood of road accidents because driverless cars are not subject to those human failings that I have listed, and many more I am sure. Of course, no option is perfect, and there will probably always be mistakes, whether it is a human or a machine making the decisions.

A research report done in 2015 by the University of Michigan showed that self-driving cars may have a higher rate of crashes than some conventional vehicles during the transition period, when both types of vehicles are sharing the road, so if cars with and without humans driving them are sharing the road. The research stated:

One main concern during this transition period is that drivers of conventional vehicles [that is, vehicles with a human driving them] would have certain expectations about the likely actions of other vehicles.

In other words, some human drivers might need to adapt to how cautiously and correctly cars without drivers would be driven. So, we would still very much need to be wary of how we use and share the roads with each other.

Having a trial of driverless cars in South Australia will give us the opportunity to work out these problems and more with driverless cars, improve the technology and ultimately decide whether or not we should continue with this in the future. This trial will be a great opportunity to embrace new technology and new ideas and, because we have so many people currently unemployed in South Australia, and leaving jobs with older more traditional technologies behind, it is really important that we look at how we can come up with new ideas to provide new and exciting job opportunities in the future.

There are more good things that could come from developing and using driverless cars more often, and these include better fuel efficiency and reduced emissions due to more efficient driving, so less impact on the environment. The practice of platooning enables trucks and cars in automated mode (without a driver) to follow close behind a truck or a car with a driver which they are electronically connected to. The vehicles in the platoon gain an aerodynamic effect and thus save fuel and also lower their environmental emissions, as far as I am told. It is all a bit too scientific for my brain, but I understand that there is a benefit there.

Finally, automated vehicles may of course allow improved, more readily available mobility for people who, like myself, are currently unable to drive because of a disability or other medical condition, or another reason. I understand that the development of vehicles and legal systems that allow the completely driverless operation of cars may be 15 to 20 years away, but I am still very excited by that possibility.

Before I started speaking to you, Mr President, the Hon. Mr Wade and I were having a chat and he said that he was worried I might become a bit of a pest if I had a driverless car more readily available to me. I was quick to remind him not to worry as this will mean that I am able to visit him more often. I tell you, Mr President, he was numb with excitement; the look on his face at the idea of me knocking on his door more frequently—he was numb with excitement. I am sure we are both very much looking forward to that.

The use of driverless cars also has the potential to reduce traffic hazards for people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids and this, again, could be a positive. As has been mentioned, there are a number of impacts that will need to be considered. Like other speakers, I would like to know how this would impact employment in South Australia, where those extra jobs might come from and what they might look like, and how many new jobs this new technology might create.

I do not know whether the minister can provide any information on that now. If he can that would be appreciated but it may well be that we need to wait to have a trial to figure out exactly what the impact on employment may be and, of course, the impact on things like the taxi industry, as mentioned by previous speakers, would need to be considered.

As I said, I think this is a very exciting opportunity to figure out these problems and improve the technology so that we can reap the benefits. The way that technology is improving, it is not too hard to imagine an urban world transformed by driverless vehicles, including car-share schemes where the vehicles are utilised around the clock. Like other speakers, I commend the government’s initiative and proudly throw Dignity for Disability’s support behind the wheel. Let’s get this right and reap the benefits for everyone in our state.

Despite a small hiccup on the parade ground, which I am sure we all remember, South Australia is clearly ready to drive into the future. I commend the second reading of this bill to the chamber and look forward to the exciting opportunities that this could provide for our state.