Target zero – the role of autonomous vehicles in improving road safety

TeslaQueensland – and Australia more broadly – has a rich history of safety innovation that has significantly contributed to a reduction in fatal crashes – speed limits, roundabouts, seatbelts, and drink-driving enforcement to name a few.

In 2015, however, the national road toll went up for the first time in 3 years. Official figures show the number of people killed on Australia roads last year increased by 4.9% – with 1209 fatalities recorded.

Queensland’s road toll was 242, 19 more than the record low of 223 in 2014. If you think about the road toll in the context of your friends and family any number is unacceptable, that is why ultimately our vision is for zero deaths and serious injuries.

While government continues to focus on a range of education, enforcement, and engineering initiatives, it will take many decades to reach our vision without a paradigm shift in the way we move.

Tesla - Mira and SarahEmerging global and disruptive trends – the internet of things, vehicle automation, big data and smart cities – are expected to play a critical role in evolving transport safety, in addition to enabling smarter and cleaner transport.

There are already vehicles on Queensland roads that can undertake a limited form of self-driving – new vehicles now include automated features such as autopilot, and lane and park-assist.

This week a number of Transport and Main Roads officers had the chance to inspect one of the new generation of vehicles – the Tesla Model SP90D.

The Tesla includes a number of new technologies, including autopilot – automatic steering, speed, lane changing and parking.

It is a pure electric vehicle with no fuel consumption or carbon emissions, and a driving distance of about 500km on a full charge.

Like many of the new generation of vehicles, it has internet connectivity – mostly for entertainment and vehicle services – but in the future this concept could be extended to improve safety by sharing data that helps the vehicle predict and negotiate with other users.

Just like your phone downloads software updates, so does the Tesla.

Historically, public acceptance of new vehicle based safety initiatives takes several years; for example, back in the 70s there was resistance to the introduction of seat belts and more recently the ongoing perceptions around speed cameras despite their objective to ensure people travel at safer speeds. These concerns are explored and resolved through research and testing.

Internationally, there are a number of trials.  Google has several test vehicles on California roads.

In 2017, Volvo will test 100 AVs, with customers on public roads in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Over the next few years, Transport and Main Roads will also begin to examine co-operative and automated vehicles, and the needs of these vehicles on our roads.

Keep posted for more information about our program.

Dennis Walsh
A/General Manager Land Transport Safety

Top: Chief Engineer Julie Mitchell and I check out the Tesla in Brisbane earlier this week.
Bottom: Project Manager ITS, Miranda Blogg and Innovation Director Sarah Norman were among the officers to inspect the Tesla in Brisbane earlier this week.