Driverless cars have been a dream for the longest time. After all, it makes one of the most painful experiences (commuting) almost bearable. However, tests of these cars have been limited by current laws and regulations around what is allowed on the road. In the US for example, both Google and Tesla have had to push against limitations when testing their cars. Singapore is bucking this trend now with an amendment to the Road Traffick Bill.
Push for autonomous driving
On 7 February the Singapore Parliament passed an amendment to the road traffic bill. While the bill covered a variety of changes to the current Road Traffick Bill, the most interesting were the section dealing with autonomous cars. LTA (the Land Transit Authority) released a factsheet on 7 February detailing what these changes covered. Concerning autonomous cars, this is the most interesting paragraph:
“As AV technology is evolving at a rapid pace, rules put in place to regulate AV trials must be highly adaptable. The proposed amendments to the RTA will give LTA the flexibility to create and amend rules to facilitate AV trials on public roads, as and when needed, while ensuring the safety of road users.”
LTA also goes out of their way to pat themselves on the back for enabling autonomous tests in One-North from as early on as 2015. While self-congratulatory, it is true. LTA has also collaborated with NTU on many other autonomous vehicle tests. Most recently, they looked into the introduction of driverless buses. This is unlikely to see the light of day for a while, though, as LTA is also pushing for more bus drivers.
What this means for autonomous vehicles
Channel NewsAsia interviewed Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng about these proposals. He explains that these amendments allow the Minister for Transport to regulate future trials on public roads. This includes requirements to share data as and when needed, most likely if an accident takes place. More importantly, Ng adds that these amendments change how the law sees passengers in a driverless car. That is, they are no longer responsible for the safe use of a motor vehicle if it’s autonomous.
That last provision is massive and is the main roadblock across the world for advancing driverless technology. Because of this provision, driverless cars in the United States are required to have a steering wheel with someone sitting in the driver seat at all times. Removing this liability can make Singapore the place to develop driverless cars. Something that the Singapore Government no doubt wants to achieve.