Driverless cars are one step closer to becoming a reality in Australia, as a leading industry organisation reveals the technology is being officially tested for the first time in the country.

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) said the stage is set in South Australia to trial what could be the next big thing for the automotive sector. A partnership between ARRB, Telstra, Bosch and Volvo means a self-driving car will be on the road in November this year.

“This trial presents a fantastic opportunity for South Australia to take a lead nationally and internationally in the development of this new technology and open up new opportunities for our economy,” commented State Premier Jay Weatherill.

According to ARRB, the autonomous motors will be tested to coincide with the Driverless Vehicle Conference, which South Australia is scheduled to host between November 5 and 6.

Accident rates in self-driving cars

Google is pioneering autonomous cars in the US, although the UK and Sweden are also making impressive strides in developing the technology. However, Google’s recent announcement that its vehicles have been involved in 14 minor road accidents since the project started may be cause for concern.

Not only does this have ramifications for road safety, but many people may also wonder how these vehicles will affect motor insurance premiums. The search engine giant has tried to allay concerns by claiming the incidents were due to human error on the parts of other drivers. In fact, the company said the driverless car was not responsible for any of the accidents.

A Monash University study has previously shown as many as 75 per cent of crashes on Australian roads are due to drivers’ mistakes. Other sources, such as the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, put the incidence rate as high as 95 per cent.

Are driverless cars safer?

While driverless cars have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, it’s arguably still early days for the technology.  Furthermore, organisations that invest in driverless fleets will also have various considerations to take into account regarding employee safety, business insurance and other issues before they are introduced.

Nevertheless, Managing Director of Volvo Cars Australia Kevin McCann claimed autonomous vehicles could enhance the wellbeing of drivers and passengers across Australia. This could result in insurance premiums going down in the future.

“At Volvo, we believe autonomous drive will lead to significant consumer and societal benefits, including improved traffic safety, improved fuel economy, reduced congestion, and the opportunity for improved infrastructure planning,” said Mr McCann.

Whether this is true or not is yet to be seen, but self-driving cars are on their way to Australia soon, meaning drivers, pedestrians, businesses and insurers need to be prepared for change.