Australia’s NTC announces driverless regulation reforms

Elevated view of Melbourne, Australia at sunrise
  • Phased reform programme to allow partially autonomous vehicles to operate on Australia’s roads by 2020
  • Human drivers will retain legal control of partially autonomous vehicles unless or until a new policy position is agreed

Australia’s National Transport Commission (NTC) has announced a phased series of reforms for driverless car regulation, aimed at allowing partially autonomous vehicles to operate safely and legally on Australia’s roads by 2020.

Inconsistent rules, regulations and application procedures for automated vehicles are potential obstacles to deploying this disruptive technology in the future.
— NTC Chief Executive Paul Retter

The reforms, based on an analysis of market trends, will also cover highly- and fully-automated vehicles from 2020.

The NTC hopes that the reforms will facilitate the increased testing of autonomous cars, boost consumer confidence in driverless vehicle safety and provide clarity about insurance coverage in the event of a self-driving car crash.



The Commission believes that the removal of regulatory barriers will help to maximise the benefits of driverless vehicles, such as improved road safety, greater freight productivity and lower congestion.

In a statement, the NTC said that it would also seek to “develop a more responsive performance-based approach to the regulation of more automated vehicles”. 

NTC Chief Executive Paul Retter said: “Inconsistent rules, regulations and application procedures for automated vehicles are potential obstacles to deploying this disruptive technology in the future.

“Our goal is to identify and remove regulatory barriers, and avoid a patchwork of conflicting requirements in different states and territories.”

What changes is Australia making to support the development of driverless cars?

The phased reform programme includes a series of initiatives to facilitate the testing and trials of self-driving cars, including:

  • The development of national guidelines to support autonomous vehicle trials
  • Clarification of who is legally in control of a vehicle with different levels of driving automation
  • The development of a comprehensive performance-based safety assurance regime for increasingly automated vehicles
  • The removal of regulatory barriers in the Australian Road Rules and other transport laws that assume a human driver.

The initiatives will be implemented over the next 24 months and were agreed by ministers at a recent meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council.

Australian transport ministers have also reaffirmed that, unless or until a new policy position is developed and agreed, the human driver remains in full legal control of a partially autonomous vehicle.

The NTC’s focus on developing national guidelines to support driverless vehicle trials is similar to the approach being taken by the US Department of Transportation (DOT). 

In September, the DOT announced a new federal policy to aid the smooth introduction of self-driving vehicles, which includes measures to establish a consistent national framework for the testing and use of driverless cars, to avoid a patchwork of incompatible laws between different US states. 

The DOT’s policy also aims to help differentiate between federal and state responsibilities for driverless car regulation.