Kirsten, could you tell us a little bit where you work, and what you do.
I work at the National Transport Commission (NTC) developing regulation for automated vehicles. The process we use is consultative so we develop discussion papers and use these papers to then consult with interested parties about how we might best regulate for automated vehicles.
What we’re aiming for is to ensure that automated vehicles can be deployed on Australian roads in a way that’s safe and that there’s certainty that they’re legal.
My role at the NTC is Manager Automated Vehicles within the future technologies team. We’re a smallish team working on a variety of reforms to allow for automated vehicles.
In terms of Australia and connected and automated vehicles in your area, are we learning from/with other places, or are we working solo on all of this?
We’re definitely learning from other places and working to align with international frameworks. There’s work happening at an international level at the UN and also each country is obviously working on developing its own framework. We participate in the UN Global Forum for Road Traffic safety, whose work considers automated vehicles, and we have good relationships with reform experts in other countries.
And because it’s so new, and quite uncharted territory across the world, countries are actually working very closely together in a way that is not altogether common.
If you had to put your life on it and make just a wild, stab in the dark guess, which I think is all it can be at this stage, when do you think we’ll see much in the way of level fours and fives on our roads?
I think that level fives are certainly a very long way off. Level fours I’m less certain about but level fives are definitely some way in the future. I would say 2040 maybe, 2050 something like that at the earliest. It’s a long way off!
And level three we want to pretend won’t exist?
Our regulation that we’re putting in place is providing for level threes. It’s ensuring that the companies bringing that technology to market are doing so in a safe way, and that any responsibilities that human users may need to have are also clear in the law.
Career-wise, how did you get to where you are now?
My background is in legal policy and legal reform. I’ve worked in state and territory governments in the Attorneys-General departments doing various legal policy or law reform projects. I’ve also worked a couple of stints at the Victorian Law Reform Commission. So I guess the alignment there is law reform.
My previous background has not been transport-focused, it’s been very much policy and law reform projects, so that’s the sort of skill match there.
And, with my PhD I also have some academic background in legal research to back up my work to date.
And how long has it been now at the NTC?
Almost two-and-a-half years.
And how are you feeling about the transport space? Are you excited like so many in the industry are about what’s coming?
Yes, I think I’ve come to it at a very interesting time where there’s a lot happening and lots of change and a lot of excitement about what the future might look like.
Right, and this one doesn’t have to be about transport considering you’re new to the industry, but what to date has been the project or work that you’ve been most proud of?
I’m proud of the work I did at the Victorian Law Reform Commission. It’s similar in some respects to my work here at NTC, in that both involved going out and really speaking to the community.
With solid consultation and engagement you can feel that the options that you come up with in the end, and the recommendations you make, are really well-informed by research and by what stakeholders tell you.
Do you think our efforts are at getting connected and automated vehicles on Australian roads are fragmented at all? How would you assess we’re doing on this task?
I think we’re doing well. I think it’s relatively coordinated in comparison with what’s happening in some other jurisdictions overseas. The National Transport Commission’s role in facilitating discussion and consultation among states and territories, and getting government and ministers’ agreement to a national law is really reducing that fragmentation.
Also, Australian jurisdictions are very much aware of the risks of fragmentation now and they are creating their own processes to ensure coordination at a jurisdictional level. So at a state and territory level, government departments are all talking to the right people, such as other departments or relevant industry et cetera. I think it’s relatively as coordinated as it can be.
But room for improvement?
I think there’s always room for improvement with coordination processes.
To finish up Kirsten, I’ll ask you a couple of hypothetical questions. First one is, if someone came to you with a lot of money and wanted you to do something with it in the area of improving transport, and there was no time limit, what would you like to do?
I would love to see all the international research on automated vehicles synthesised in such a way that it was clear what infrastructure and regulation would be required to bring automated vehicles to every corner of Australia.
If Australia was to make a significant investment on infrastructure and regulation it would be great to bring all the key elements together. We’ve seen already that industry leaders in automated vehicle technology are looking at connected, automated, and electric (or carbon-neutral) vehicles and ‘Mobility as a Service’ as part of a cohesive package.
With an unlimited budget and unlimited time, all the regulatory and infrastructure requirements could be progressed simultaneously. If we could have the infrastructure and regulation in place to roll these vehicles out to even the remotest corners of our country, including things like consistent road signage, charging stations at regular intervals, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications technologies; and integration of private mobility as a service with public transport.
This would be a dream scenario for vehicle, driver, and pedestrian safety, along with productivity and efficient journeys.
Achieving this type of roll-out on all Australian roads in all conditions would need states, territories and the Commonwealth to reach a common agreement.
And the second hypothetical question is again a project or piece of work or study, but this time with a limited budget, limited time frame, but would still have an appreciable impact. What would you like to do in this scenario?
The biggest driver (excuse the pun) for the uptake of automated vehicles is public confidence that they are safe. The National Transport Commission has had strong feedback that the public believe government intervention is required for them to be certain about their safety.
To ensure safety is the highest priority, a big success on a smaller budget would be getting agreement from governments to a ‘general safety duty’. A general safety duty is familiar to Australians as part of work health and safety laws, and is a requirement to do whatever is reasonably practicable to ensure health and safety.
A similar agreement for parties involved in automated vehicles would be a good step forward to keep the focus on safety.