Wednesday, March 01, 2017
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Transport Minister makes history


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Self-driving cars are popping up all over the world but are still a little bit of a futuristic dream for the average New Zealander. Or are they? Minister of Transport Simon Bridges says they’ll be here sooner than you think, and might completely transform society.

Bay Driver spent a few hours with the Transport Minister last month at the 2016 TRAFINZ Conference held at Trinity Wharf from November 16-18. Also known as The New Zealand Local Authority Traffic Institute, TRAFINZ is the organisation that represents local authority views on road safety and traffic management in New Zealand. TRAFINZ serves the public interest by advocating for safe, efficient and economical planning and management of traffic – so what better place to test the self-driving capability of the all new Volvo XC90? And who better to review this new technology, the highest power in the land, when it comes to transport than the NZ Minister for Transport himself?

What Simon says

Ahead of the TRAFINZ Conference, Bay Driver’s media partner stuff.co.nz asked The Minister if testing self-driven cars is legal in NZ? “New Zealand, as you may have seen, is relatively unusual in that there is no legal impediment to driverless vehicles. We don’t have a positive law that says you must have a driver with his or her hands on the wheel,” replied Simon That said, anyone wanting to test driverless cars is asked to submit a safety plan to the Government, and the Police have the power to stop any vehicle they deem unsafe. There are very few Teslas in NZ, but it seems nobody has been arrested for leaving one on autopilot yet. Paul Ralph from the University of Auckland also said: “The question isn’t when the technology will be ready; the question is when politicians will allow it to happen,” says Paul, who is a computer science lecturer that specialises in complex systems. “It’s a political question, like asking when we are going to get electoral reform? The technology is basically ready now. The question is how long it will take different countries to allow it?” New Zealand is straining to become one of the first countries on the self-driven bandwagon. “The Government is more than open to tests like the recent one in Pittsburgh, United States, where Uber is actually transporting passengers using self-drive technology,” says Simon. “Across the transport technologies we want to have New Zealand perceived as a test bed where these things can be tried.” Simon aims to have a large-scale trial or demonstration of driverless technology in New Zealand by the end of the year. He predicts self-driving cars will be widely available in NZ – both to buy and to rideshare in – by the early-2020s, according to stuff.co.nz

Self-driving cars are safer

The dream of a driverless future is easy to understand. Driving is the most risky activity most of us engage in. Humans are terribly unsafe drivers prone to errors of attention, temperament and intoxication. An autonomous – or self-driving – car is one that can accelerate, brake and steer itself. Such cars have long been part of a utopian vision of the future, because they will free people from the boring aspects of driving and open up exciting new ways to travel. The many attempts at realising this vision during the years have been limited by the technology available. Volvo has been able to make autonomous cars a reality. Autonomous driving has the power to change the world as we know it forever. This change will take place step-by-step. However, the key is to ensure the technology fits around how and where people use it. Volvo cars use some of this technology to create semi-autonomous cars that make your journey easier and safer, while leaving you fully in control. The XC90s Pilot Assist function, for example, can accelerate, brake and steer for you, keeping you a set distance from the car in front and in lane, at speeds up to 130km/h.

The test drive

With a media scrum in tow, Simon and the self-driven Volvo XC90 hit a 15km stretch of road from ASB Baypark to Papamoa alongside other motorists, during the TRAFINZ conference on November 18 – this was streamed live back to conference delegates, who were literally on the edge of their seats with anticipation. The only driver input was at the halfway point of the trip to take the roundabout before the Tauranga Eastern Link and head back towards the city. It was the first official test of autonomous driving in New Zealand and Bay Driver was proud to be a part of history in the making.

The verdict

With research showing about nine in every 10 crashes being due to driver error, the reality is self-driving cars are a must for the future. Whether self-drive technology is for you or not, only a test drive will answer this. However, be assured this is only a fraction of what this car is capable of. The eagerly-awaited XC90 is perhaps the best all-around luxury SUV on the market and we strongly recommend you add it to your Christmas shopping list.

SPECS

Volvo XC90

Highlighted features as standard:

• Adaptive Cruise Control

• Traction & Electronic Stability Control

• Automatic Headlights & Wipers

• Reversing Camera & Parking Sensors

• Lane Assist & Forward Collision Alert

• GPS Navigation

• Heads-up Display

• Keyless start / Keyless Entry

• Heated Seats

Price: RRP: $116,650 Dealer: Duncan and Ebbett, 15 Hewletts Road, Mount Maunganui. Phone: 07 928 1280.


 
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