The Department of Transport says that it plans to develop new regulations around self-driving cars in South Africa in the coming months.
In a quarterly report to parliament this week, the department said research into the regulations had been approved and submitted, but had missed internal deadlines in 2021. It now expects to present the regulations before the end of the financial year.
The department has said that self-driving vehicles will move on streets with little or no control by humans, solving several mobility issues for the country – including road safety, social inclusion, emissions and congestion.
“Government is putting in place policy, legislation and strategies to take advantage of the benefits associated with automated vehicles (AVs), while also minimising risks and unpremeditated consequences,” the department said in its 2021 annual report.
“The new policy, legislation and strategies should provide a welcoming environment for testing and development of AV technology.”
Regulations around self-driving cars have come increasingly under the spotlight in recent years, as models from Tesla and other vehicle manufacturers gain in popularity.
In a February 2022 earnings call, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said he thinks Full Self-Driving (FSD) will become its most important source of profit over time and repeated a prediction that the wide release of the capability will lead to one of the biggest asset-value increases in history.
“We are completely confident at this point that it will be achieved,” Musk said. “My personal guess is that we will achieve Full Self-Driving this year, at a safety level significantly greater than a person.”
International shipping companies and software developers are also experimenting with self-driving trucks as a way to solve a driver shortage worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing fire from safety advocates who call the technology a risk to motorists.
While self-driving trucks are still years from winning regulatory approval, pioneers of the technology see it as a long-term solution to an increasingly intractable labor problem.
“Human drivers, by our nature, have to eat, sleep and take breaks,” said Sterling Anderson, co-founder of Aurora Innovation Inc., which started testing driverless truck software in December in Texas with Uber Technologies’ logistics arms. “What that leads to is enormous underutilization of these trucks and much slower movement of goods.”
With further reporting by Bloomberg