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Driverless cars off open Aust roads: union

A fatal crash in the United States involving a driverless Uber car highlights why Australia should not test the high-tech vehicles on open public roads, the Transport Workers Union says.

The ride services company suspended its self-driving vehicle tests in North America after one of its autonomous vehicles travelling at 65km/h hit a woman as she crossed an Arizona street. She later died in a Phoenix hospital.

Hours later, the NSW government launched its biggest trial yet of automated vehicles, involving seven leading carmakers.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says it’s “critically important” trials of driverless cars be done in controlled environments, not on public roads.

He is calling on state and federal lawmakers to adopt mandatory ethical rules ahead of any further development of driverless vehicle technology.

“It should not be left to billionaire, sandshoe-wearing, Silicon Valley hacks to work out, while they hang the consequences on all road users and the general public,” Mr Sheldon said on Tuesday.

“Should we be experimenting on roads to decide by algorithm who the victim should be?”

Swinburne University future urban mobility expert Hussein Dia said regulators need to consider the level of scrutiny they apply to the vehicles’ artificial intelligence before allowing them into the real world.

Google’s self-driving business Waymo began in 2009, while others such as Uber have only begun developing the technology in recent years.

NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said there’s a need to look at the circumstances of the Uber crash but noted 100 other people die every day on the roads in the US.

“We shouldn’t be scared of the future,” she told 2GB.

She said the six-month trial on Sydney’s motorways involved cars already on the market and, as is state law, required a human driver to have their hands on the wheel at all times.

The technology will use automated systems like emergency braking but complete control won’t be handed over, like in an autonomous system.

Autonomous systems, as part of a ride-share service, will be trialled later this year in Perth, where cars will be limited to 50km/h on closed roads.

They’ll also have human chaperones.

“We recognise there is always an element of risk when testing new technology such as this, which is why safety has been the primary consideration throughout our own automated vehicle trials,” the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia said.

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