Melbourne’s motorways focus of two new autonomous vehicle trials

View of Melbourne's central district and river

The government of Victoria has announced two new autonomous vehicle trials on Melbourne’s motorways as it seeks to prepare the state’s roads for the advent of driverless cars.

In the first trial, with roads manager Transurban, the government will begin to test a range of automated vehicles on Melbourne’s Monash-Citylink-Tullarmine corridor next year. 

The second trial, to be conducted in traffic on Melbourne’s EastLink motorway, will see the government working with the Australian Road Research Board, La Trobe University and ConnectEast over 18 months to test cars with semi-autonomous driver assistance technology such as lane keep assist, auto braking and adaptive cruise control.  

Both trials will assess how different types of self-driving technology are able to interact with existing road infrastructure, such as overhead lane signals, speed signs and lane markings.

At the same time, VicRoads, which manages the state’s arterial road network, is seeking views on how it should support on-road trials of automated vehicles.

VicRoads is inviting feedback on the government’s Future Directions Paper, which sets out the need for regulatory changes to allow the testing of highly automated vehicles in Victoria. The consultation will inform the state’s future automated vehicles policies.

In particular, the consultation will look at how to ensure safety during automated vehicle testing on public roads, what constitutes a driver ‘being in control’ and how automated vehicle technology will interact with the state’s current transport system.

The Transurban trial will begin with testing automated vehicles that comply with existing road rules and road safety regulations. A human driver will monitor the vehicle’s operation, ready to take back control at any time.

‘Critical’ role for autonomous vehicles

Commenting on the Transurban trial, Minister for Roads Luke Donnellan said: “Keeping people safe on our roads is our number one priority and that’s why we’re running these innovative trials in the safest possible way for all road users.

“By removing human error from the equation, autonomous vehicles will play a critical role in reducing deaths and serious injuries on Victorian roads.”

Transurban CEO Scott Charlton said: “Industry experts say we will have fully driverless cars on the market in the next 5 to 10 years and we need to make sure our infrastructure is ready to meet this demand.

“Highly automated vehicles have the potential to significantly boost road safety, relieve congestion and improve social mobility. 

“We are pleased to partner with the Victorian Government to look at how these vehicles could one day deliver benefits for local road users.”

Commenting on the launch of the EastLink trial, Donnellan said: “We’re working with Australia’s top road researchers and road operators to ensure we’re at the forefront of this technology to reduce congestion and increase road safety.

“This trial will pave the way for EastLink to support vehicle manufacturers activating the technology so commuters can enjoy all the benefits of safe hands-free driving.”

Recent driverless initiatives underway in Australia

In October, the government of Victoria announced an AU$1.2 million partnership with Bosch, VicRoads and the state’s Transport Accident Commission to build the first self-driving vehicle developed in Australia.

The South Australian Government announced that it will invest AU$10 million into the testing, research and development of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

More recently, Australia’s National Transport Commission announced a phased series of reforms for driverless car regulation, aimed at having partially autonomous vehicles operating safely on the country’s roads by 2020.

Meanwhile, an Australian House of Representatives committee is holding an inquiry to examine the social implications of driverless cars.