New legislation has been passed in the Victorian state parliament to allow trials of autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state.

Amendments made to the Road Safety Act received unanimous support from the members, enabling the legislation to be passed in the upper house. South Australia and New South Wales had introduced new legislation last year for trialling driverless vehicles.

The historic legislation lays down the ground rules for conducting trials of driverless vehicles on Victorian roads, including establishing legal responsibility and ensuring compliance.

The new regulatory framework allows the state’s roads authority, VicRoads to grant permits to individuals or organisations seeking to conduct on-road trials of autonomous vehicles.

Applicants can obtain a licence by providing details of the pilot project including a safety management plan. Additionally, the legal entity holding the licence will accept the legal burden for any mishaps occurring during the trial; and must ensure sufficient safety management mechanisms including having a human supervisor either inside or outside of the vehicle.

In the interest of public safety, the Victoria Police has been empowered to impound driverless vehicles being used without a permit.

Similar legislation introduced in South Australia last year requires entities to apply directly to the transport minister and fulfil specific criteria for insurance while NSW’s legislation, also passed last year allows for a two-year driverless bus pilot.

Trials of electric driverless shuttle buses and autonomous taxis are currently taking place in Western Australia.

The new legislation is expected to showcase the local government’s commitment to supporting the development of emerging technology, and draw companies working in this segment to conduct trials in Victoria, thereby helping transform the state into a hub for driverless vehicle technology.