SINGAPORE: Autonomous vehicle (AV) trials could now take place on public roads in Singapore, after the Road Traffic Act (RTA) was amended on Tuesday (Feb 7) to give the Land Transport Authority (LTA) flexibility to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology.
Announcing the changes, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said the Minister for Transport will now be allowed to create new rules which can place time and space limits on the AV trials, set standards for the design of the AV equipment, and impose requirements to share data from the trials.
The regulatory framework can also exempt AVs, operators of AVs and those conducting or participating in trials of AVs from existing provisions of the RTA, which make a human driver responsible for the safe use of a motor vehicle while on a public road.
“As this is emerging technology, the provisions will provide the flexibility needed to assess the appropriate regulatory response more quickly,” said Mr Ng. “We have limited this regulatory sandbox to five years. At the end of these five years, the ministry will consider enacting more permanent legislation, or return to Parliament to further extend the period of the sandbox.”
Quizzed later on the prospect of safety issues and liabilities for AVs involved in road accidents, Mr Ng said: “As AV technology is not yet mature, during trials, accidents are not to be unexpected. LTA will therefore put in place a robust regulatory framework to minimise the possibility of accidents.”
“First, AVs must demonstrate basic roadworthiness and capabilities by passing safety assessments before they are even trialled on roads,” he said.
“Second, developers must have robust accident mitigation plans for trials. This includes having a safety driver trained to swiftly take control of the vehicle whenever necessary. This driver must have a Class 3 licence and no demerit points. The need for a safety driver can be waived after AV developers have proven the competency of the AV to LTA’s full satisfaction.”
Third, said Mr Ng, AV trials will only start on lightly used roads like those in the one-north district. When AVs are able to demonstrate a higher competency, they will then be allowed to trial on more complex environments, including some public roads.
All test AVs will also be required to log travel data to facilitate accident investigations and liability claims.
Mr Ng was then asked if AVs should be subject to Certificates of Entitlement when their population on public roads increases.
“In the longer term, when AV technology is deployed widely, there is no reason why we should exempt them,” he said. “But these are early days. We will review the policy at an appropriate point in time.”
Earlier he noted that AVs were fast becoming a reality on roads, although widespread deployment of the technology was still some 10, maybe 15 years away.
“Progressively, the Government will put in place programmes to help Singaporeans who drive for a living, acquire new skills and take on higher value-added jobs in an AV world,” said Mr Ng.
"Rather than impede the adoption of technologies beneficial to all Singaporeans, we should focus our efforts on helping the transport workforce adapt to these inevitable disruptions."
In a statement, LTA hailed AV technology as having the potential to improve Singapore’s transportation system.
“For instance, autonomous buses could address the problem of shortage of bus drivers, while on-demand autonomous shuttles could comfortably and conveniently ferry commuters from the doorstep to the train station,” it said.
“LTA has been facilitating AV trials by various technology developers at designated locations such as one-north and CleanTech Park since 2015.”