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Driverless car testing in NZ 'would be a major breakthrough'

24 Feb 2016

Intelligent Transport Systems New Zealand (ITSNZ) has announced its support of testing driverless cars in the country, following the publication of Ministry of Transport guidelines for testing of autonomous vehicles on New Zealand roads.

Published on the Ministry’s website, the guidelines outline rules and offer advice to any organisation considering testing of autonomous vehicles cars in this country, and encourages companies to share findings with the Ministry and NZ Transport Agency so New Zealand can benefit from the opportunities this emerging technology offers.

The ITSNZ organisation is part of a global network that supports the adoption of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), a rapidly developing group of technologies that aims to make transport more efficient, sustainable and safe.

Internationally, autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles are being tested in several countries already by BMW, Ford, General Motors and most other manufacturers. However, in many cases testing is restricted to test areas or highly regulated on limited sections of public roads, ITSNZ says.

New Zealand, by comparison, has significant appeal. As Cormac McBride, ITSNZ transformation strategist, says, “New Zealand’s main attraction is that New Zealand legislation already allows autonomous vehicles on our roads. In many other jurisdictions, testing is hampered by regulations, restricted to test tracks and legislation is struggling to keep up.”

“In addition, New Zealand has varied road conditions, a population that is well educated and fast adopters of technology, it is one of the world’s most business friendly countries, and of course NZ is great place to live,” he says.

Until now, testing of new transport technology in NZ has mainly focused on technology embedded within transport infrastructure and based around a of variety of different sensor technologies and software that measure and model traffic speed, volumes and type.

Peter McCombs, ITSNZ chairman and CEO of engineering company TDG, is quick to point out the flow-on benefits that autonomous vehicle testing would create for New Zealand.  

“Most exciting for New Zealand other than the potential publicity, prestige and economic boost of driverless vehicle teams actually setting up an office here, is that there could be real benefits for New Zealand’s technology sector, in the development of supporting ITS and transport technologies and connected infrastructure,” he says.

“New Zealand companies like HMI Technologies are already testing infrastructure to vehicle communications, Auckland’s Fusion Networks have some cutting-edge network fault monitoring technology used by transport agencies and others like Roam and Chariot are developing so called mobility as a service platforms.

“If testing does get underway, it would be a major breakthrough with New Zealand set to benefit and we would expect to welcome many more local innovators and investors to this exciting industry sector,” says McCombs.

The Testing Autonomous Vehicles in New Zealand document is a significant step in the Ministry of Transport’s four-year Intelligent Transport Systems Technology Action Plan 2014-2018. The document does make clear that any testing will need to adhere to the Land Transport Act and the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

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