18 July 2016


'The Challenges of Autonomous Motor Vehicles for Queensland Road and Criminal Laws' by Kieran Tranter in (2016) 16(2) QUT Law Review 59-81 comments
This article examines the challenges of autonomous motor vehicles for Queensland road and criminal laws. Autonomous vehicles refer to motor vehicles where driver decision making has been augmented or replaced by intelligent systems. Proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that they will virtually eliminate road accidents, boost productivity and provide significant environmental benefits. The key issue is that autonomous vehicles challenge the notion of human responsibility which lies at the core of Queensland’s road and criminal laws. The road rules are predicated on a driver in control of the vehicle, the intoxication regime is concerned with the person in charge of the vehicle and the dangerous driving offences require a person who operates a vehicle. Notwithstanding this challenge, it can be seen that much of Queensland’s law is adaptable to autonomous vehicles. However, there are some identifiable anomalies that require reform.
Tranter suggests that
The challenge of autonomous vehicles is that by replacing or augmenting driver decision making, existing laws that assume driver responsibility seem inadequate. Nevertheless, it is argued that much of Queensland’s road and criminal laws are adaptable to autonomous vehicles. However, there are some clear anomalies that will need to be addressed to effectively maximise the safety, economic and environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles. Furthermore, there will be the need for more detailed reforms as autonomous vehicles become more widespread. This argument is in three sections.
The first section locates autonomous vehicles within a trajectory of innovation that has steadily reduced driver involvement with primary vehicle controls. The technical details of emerging autonomous vehicles will be canvassed and the safety, economic and environmental drivers for adoption will be outlined. This section concludes by identifying different ‘levels’ of automation for autonomous vehicles which forms the basis for the second section. This section also argues why a focus on Queensland law is appropriate and desirable. The second section audits the challenges of the different levels of automation for Queensland’s road and criminal laws.
The focus is on the substantive provisions of the rules of the road, the rules regarding intoxication and vehicles and specific offences under the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) (the ‘Code’). The concern is that as automation increases it becomes less certain that the human occupant is the person in control of the vehicle for the road rules, in charge of the vehicle for the intoxication regime and the person who operates the vehicle for the dangerous driving offences. Nevertheless, it will be shown that much of the existing law is adaptable to autonomous vehicles. The third section examines how to reform Queensland road and criminal laws to address the identified anomalies. Reform in relation to autonomous vehicles is underway in several overseas jurisdictions. In particular some of the immediate concerns with the interaction of increasingly autonomous vehicles and the road rules that were identified could be addressed in Queensland by the adoption of the definitions of autonomous vehicle and driver to include an operator of an autonomous vehicle that have been enacted in some United States jurisdictions.