Self-driving cars are expected to hit our roads sometime around 2020, which means Australia has roughly two years to adjust its road laws. The National Transport Commission (NTC) has released a discussion paper on their lawful introduction, and are recommending people should be able to drink and drive.
According to the NTC there's a "clear-cut" argument for allowing drunk people to ride in self-driving cars. As the report explains, "Enabling people to use an automated vehicle to drive them home despite having consumed alcohol has the potential to improve road safety outcomes by reducing the incidence of drink-driving."
It also recommends that drivers should be exempt from drink driving laws while setting the route and destination, and the car is not in motion. "The situation is analogous to a person instructing a taxi driver where to go," it reads.
According to the paper, laws in Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania currently pertain to the person who is "in charge" of the car. These laws would need amending so they apply to the navigational systems of self-driving cars. This would even be in the case in which a faulty computer system is responsible for a fatal accident. In that case, the computer would be legally responsible, even if the automated car's occupants were drunk.
On the balance, the NTC throughout its paper seem very pro-automated cars, and argues that Australia won't see their safety, productivity, environmental, and mobility benefits, unless legislative barriers… are removed."
There were 1,300 deaths on Australian roads last year, up eight percent on the year before. Of those numbers, the majority of deaths were caused by human error. An earlier report found that 13.5 percent of all fatal accidents were caused by intoxication, which is still the most common cause. Presumably this issue could be just about eliminated if all drunks were getting home in self-driving cars.