Self driving cars in NZ

Seems I’m not alone in my thinking that self-driving cars are going to be a major new thing in the near future. Simon Bridges, Minister of Transport thinks so too. At the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany he said that self drive cars could be on the road in NZ in as little as two years. While I think that is great that a Minister is pushing technology like this (and it falls under two of his portfolios – he is also Energy and Resources Minister and most talk about self drive cars is based on them being electric cars), I think he is a little too ambitious. Yes, these cars have the potential to make a huge difference in people’s life’s and potentially crush our high road toll. But there needs some good thought and discussion around the repercussions of what driver less cars will actually mean in the real world.

Questions that will need to be answered are:

  • If you are sitting in the traditional spot where a driver would sit on your way home after having a few drinks are you likely to be charged for drink driving?
  • Who is legally responsible if a self drive car happened to be in a crash?
  • Will you be able to send your car to pick the kids up from school while you stay home? Will it be legal for the car to be driven without anyone in it, or a person under the driving age?
  • If your car is self driving and you are using it as a taxi, do you still require a “p” endorsement on your drivers license as you aren’t actually driving?

And then thought needs to be given to the electric car part of things.

  • How is our electricity grid going to handle mass amounts of cars needing to be charged?
  • Will infrastructure be required so people can charge their cars while out and about – ie in parking buildings or at hotel/motel car parks?
  • If a car runs out of petrol on the motorway it is relatively easy for someone to bring some petrol and top the car up so it can continue on it’s way – how would that work with an electric car?

So, while self drive cars seems to be a great idea, there are legal and logistical questions that need to be looked at before they are driven on our roads. Given Simon Bridges expects these in the next few years these discussions really need to take place now.

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