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Driverless cars loom closer on the horizon

Insurance companies will watch with interest as several initiatives in SA bring driverless cars closer to our roads.

Premier Jay Weatherill has already committed the state to being the first to allow driverless vehicles on roads.

Now he has announced it will host the first trials on Australian roads in November.

The tests will coincide with a driverless vehicle conference at Flinders University’s Tonsley innovation precinct on November 5-6.

Flinders University is developing a “new generation” of driverless car that are not only autonomous but also solar-powered. It is sponsoring the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2017.

SA’s commitment is a result of the national Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, promoted by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) – a non-profit organisation comprising each state and territory government’s road and transport agencies.

The ARRB is co-ordinating the trials, which include project partners Telstra, Bosch, Volvo and the Royal Automobile Association of SA.

ARRB MD Gerard Waldron expects driverless cars will be seen on Australian streets within three years.

He says it is important to establish how driverless technology should be manufactured and introduced for “uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage”.

Major carmakers are well advanced in developing driverless technology. Nissan has announced plans to sell driverless cars by 2019, and Ford expects to sell its first by 2020.

Mr Waldron expects more state governments to support the ARRB’s initiative next year.

Finity Consulting Principal Graeme Adams says with 14 million cars on the road, it will take considerably longer than three years for driverless vehicles to make an impact.

“What we’re seeing is an incremental approach to driverless technology, such as the introduction of self-parking and automatic braking technology, but 90% of cars on the road don’t have that technology,” he said.

Although insurers have been mostly quiet on the subject, Mr Adams says we can expect to hear more from them as driverless cars move closer to being a reality.

“Driverless cars [as the major form of road transport] are still some time away,” he said.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is hype, but insurance companies know it’s something on the horizon that they need to be cognisant of.”

Royal Automobile Association GM Public Affairs Penny Gale says by 2020 all cars coming off the production line will have some ability to drive themselves, “and we need to prepare”.

She says 90% of road crashes are caused by human error. “Therefore, if we remove the reliance on human behaviour through self-drive cars, we can potentially reduce the number of road crashes,” she told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“Fewer crashes will undoubtedly lead to fewer injuries and, importantly, save many lives. Who knows, it could also lead to fewer insurance claims.”

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