Developments in self-driving car technology is progressing rapidly, with carmakers, ride-hailing services, and tech companies like Google competing to create the first viable products.
Regulation has struggled to keep up with these developments, and many nations have not yet created rules regarding AI-operated vehicles.
Certain areas such as California in the US have embraced the technology, allowing autonomous vehicles to travel without a human occupant.
These locations have become testing hotbeds for vehicles, although accidents and incidents are still inspected carefully by both the authorities and the companies testing their vehicles.
While many national and local authorities have accommodated the testing of self-driving vehicles, there is no regulation in South Africa regarding the issue.
Driverless cars in South Africa
The National Department of Transport told MyBroadband that the operation of self-driving cars on public roads is not allowed in South Africa.
“Currently in terms of our legislation, there are no provisions that deal with self-driving cars. It is not allowed in terms of our legislation,” it said.
The department added that vehicles cannot be operated without a driver onboard.
Companies may be able to test self-driving vehicles in South Africa, but they would have to comply with existing regulations and minimise the risk to other drivers.
“We allow for the process of motor vehicle testing in the republic, as long as it is going to be conducted in the manner that does not endanger other road users” said the Department.
The operation of motor vehicles on a public road is governed by the National Road Traffic Act and its regulations, and there is currently no regulation regarding the operation of self-driving vehicles in South Africa.
The race to develop a capable and safe self-driving vehicle has resulted in motoring technology breakthroughs, as well as safety concerns.
Uber’s self-driving technology suffered a serious setback recently, following an incident where one of its self-driving vehicles hit and killed a pedestrian crossing a road.
The vehicle’s failure to detect and avoid the pedestrian caused Uber to lose its operating rights for driverless cars in Arizona – incited increased wariness of autonomous vehicles.
If the safety of motorists and pedestrians is not ensured, the progress of self-driving technology could be hindered by a crackdown on public road testing.
On the other hand, the potential payoffs of self-driving cars range from cheaper transport services and reduced accident rates, to improved traffic flow.
If public roads were populated exclusively by self-driving cars, they would be able to communicate with each other and navigate intersections without the need for traffic lights, for example.
This would make traffic jams a thing of the past, and would free up time for the car’s occupants – including that of the “driver”.