News Item

April 2018

Study finds law change needed for driverless vehicle adoption in NZ

Law change is needed soon to ensure driverless vehicles can be used legally on New Zealand roads, a major Law Foundation study concludes.

Study author Michael Cameron says a complete overhaul of law and policy around driverless vehicles is required. New Zealand can afford to take time to get the comprehensive change right, but some targeted reform is needed more urgently.

“Certain types of driverless vehicles, such as the taxi fleets being deployed by General Motors next year, may not legally be allowed on New Zealand roads, regardless of how safe they are.

“Law change to reduce this uncertainty is desirable soon if New Zealand wants to ensure the life-saving benefits of driverless technology are not needlessly delayed. Such change would help New Zealand become a leader in driverless technology, with all the economic benefits that would entail. As we have shown with rockets in the North Island and autonomous air taxis in the South, our country can contribute to the development of world -beating technology – but only if we have receptive laws.”

Michael’s book, Realising the Potential of Driverless Vehicles for New Zealand, identifies key law reforms needed for the smooth introduction of driverless vehicles, as well as counter-productive law changes that should not be made.

He says that despite recent publicity over the first pedestrian death involving a driverless vehicle, the safety of all road users will ultimately be improved by full adoption of the new technology.

“Many hope that driverless vehicles will eliminate traffic accidents, end congestion, spark economic growth and provide cheap and convenient mobility for all. But countries that want to fully realise these benefits, and avoid the pitfalls, will need to ensure their legal houses are in order,” he says.

Also, driverless vehicle manufacturers should prepare safety assessments for New Zealand, as they do in the United States, so our authorities can better utilise existing consumer protection and land transport rules to protect the public.

Law changes are also needed to clarify liability for offences involving driverless vehicles such as speeding or illegal parking. Other issues covered in Michael’s report include regulation of testing, cyber-security, mandated vehicle connectivity, radio spectrum use, urban planning, special lanes and reserved roads, privacy, parking and ethics.

Michael’s study, which involved research in New Zealand, the United States, Europe, Singapore and Australia, was made possible by the award of the New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellowship in 2016.

Law Foundation Executive Director Lynda Hagen says Michael’s project is the latest of several Foundation-backed studies of legal issues around beneficial emerging technologies.

“Driverless vehicles are the way of the future, and we need to get on board. Michael’s work identifies the law changes needed to make sure New Zealand gets the full early benefits of exciting new technology-led developments,” Lynda says.

Full report in PDF 192 pages
Hard copies are available at Unity Books
Brief overview of the report pdf 2 pages
Links to photos from Unity Books launch on 19th April

New Zealand Law Foundation provided funding under our International Research Fellowship for this research.