Driverless vehicles decades away?

IAG is the latest automotive industry player to predict the widespread deployment of self-driving vehicles is a lot further away than the public has been led to believe.

Insurance Australia Group predicts almost zero take-up of autonomous vehicles in Australia until at least 2030.

Insurance Australia Group (IAG) is the latest automotive industry player to predict the widespread deployment of self-driving vehicles is a lot further away than the public has been led to believe.

According to a research study overseen by IAG’s group executive of strategy and corporate development David Harrington and first reported by the Australian Financial Review, autonomous vehicles of any kind will remain almost non-existent in Australia until at least 2030.

Australia to lag behind US

Many automakers have touted 2025 as the year by which there will be widespread take-up of ridesharing and autonomous vehicles, which the industry categorises as Level 1 (vehicles with driver assist features like active lane-keeping, cruise control and low-speed braking, which has now even hit the ute market), Level 2 (hands/feet-off), Level 3 (eyes off), Level 4 (brain off) and Level 5 (fully auto).

But IAG researchers—who defined self-driving vehicles as ‘assisted’, ‘mainly driverless’ and ‘driverless’—have forecast the penetration of mainly driverless cars within Australia’s vehicle fleet (currently 18 million) to reach just 20 per cent by 2035.

By 2040, IAG expects mainly driverless vehicles to account for 48 per cent of cars on our roads, and for fully driverless vehicles to comprise 14 per cent. In contrast, US research insists that 53 per cent of the North American vehicle fleet will be mainly driverless and 22 per cent fully driverless by 2040.

Based on the fact that human error causes 90 per cent of all road vehicle collisions, it’s been forecast that autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of global road fatalities by 50 per cent.

Harrington said the shift to autonomous vehicles will have significant economic impacts, since motor vehicles are estimated to cost the economy about $40 billion annually Down Under. But he said key barriers to autonomous vehicle acceptance in Australia, which was recently named one of the most sceptical nations when it comes to self-driving cars, were cost and legislation.

The first Level 2-capable cars – led by Audi’s new A8 limousine – are now on the road in in the US and Europe, but continue to be prevented from employing their full suite of autonomous technologies due to local laws.

Implementation of driverless vehicle legislation has been slow in Australia, due in part to the ethical and legal questions around the responsibility for potential damage, injuries and deaths – such as the high profile case that recently led Uber to halt autonomous vehicle testing in the US.

Significant legislative change required

Vehicle and infrastructure costs aside, IAG says the single most important barrier to autonomous vehicles in Australia is the list of 700-odd separate state and federal laws that need to be changed to make them legal.

So far autonomous vehicle trials are legal only in South Australia and Victoria, where Eastlink’s Mullum Mullum tunnel has just been LIDAR-mapped by a Telstra aerial drone in preparation for self-driving car testing.

LIDAR is a digital surveying technology that uses a rapidly pulsing laser light to build up an accurate 3-D map, which along with real-time LIDAR-scanning is employed by most self-driving prototypes.

“Trials of fully self-driving car prototypes need to be conducted under controlled conditions on Australian roads to test their safe operation in Australian environments, including our urban streets, arterial roads, freeways and tunnels,” said EastLink corporate affairs and marketing manager Doug Spencer-Roy.

“To enable these trials, the trial sites first need to be mapped in high resolution.” Harrington said that while most Australians drive a private vehicle, the use of public transport is expected to fall from about 12 per cent this year to 10 per cent in 2040 because of the economies of scale from large fleets of shared vehicles.

Private vehicles still cheaper than sharing

Importantly for vehicle insurers, he said the Australian motor insurance market will grow through to 2030 and beyond. On a personal level, IAG research found it costs between 60¢ and $1 per kilometre to travel by private vehicle – much less than ride-hailing ($3), ride-sharing ($1.50) and car sharing ($1.20), but slightly more than its estimate for sharing an autonomous vehicle (between 50¢ and 60¢).

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This analysis originally appeared in Auto Market Watch - Edition 11. 

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