Automated, Driverless Cars – a new horizon

Self driving vehicle on the road.From the Editor: I recently attended a workshop jointly held by Transport for NSW, NRMA and the Committee for Sydney. The half day session encouraged us to think 40 years ahead in terms of planning for transportation, particularly automated and WiFi connected vehicles. All seems too sci-fi? Think again. Sitting with experts in the field of vehicle automated technology and transport planning, it was a real eye-opener. Just think what driverless cars will mean for people who cannot currently drive or no longer have a licence. It can mean a whole new world for people with disability – but we have to make sure everything is universally designed – inclusive of everyone.

Discussions revolved around several issues, some positive, some negative. If you can dial up a car to come to your doorstep via your mobile phone any time you need it, you won’t need to buy a car. That frees up your money to be spent elsewhere in the economy. But what if this brave new world means that people give up walking – what will that mean for active travel and the associated health benefits? The design of cars will no doubt change – a box-shape on four wheels will do the job – maybe cars for one person will be quite small and others could be large enough to carry the footy team. graphic of a car, a truck and a section of roadHuman error is the major factor in road accidents. Think how much health money and personal distress could be saved if we reduced the road toll to virtually nil. And could the savings in health costs offset the reduced income from road taxes, and when we go fully electric, fuel excise and taxes?

There were many other discussion points, but I was left with one lasting impression: Automated and connected vehicles are on their way and here to stay. Semi automated vehicles are already here – self parking, cruise control and automated braking, automatic wipers and headlights, and sensors that can tell if the driver is feeling drowsy. We already have automatic pilot on aircraft, agricultural and mining vehicles, and warehouse forklifts and dockside loaders that all operate without human intervention. So if you thought it was just talk, think again.  More importantly, think what it might mean for the universal design of vehicles, transport policy and transport planning. It all needs to be inclusive – everyone has to benefit.

Incidentally, Intelligent Transport Systems Australia is holding a free networking event in Sydney on 4 July.  To find out more about what Transport for NSW is doing on this topic – go to their dedicated website There are surveys for community members and business – so you can have your say.

Jane Bringolf, Editor