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South Africa and Legislating for Autonomous Vehicles

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

By Tom Clapp

Tesla, Apple, Kia-Hyundai, Ford, and Huawei have all begun work on, or plan to start developing autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the near future. [1] The process is complicated and capital-intensive, but the private sector only plays a part of the role in introducing AVs into everyday use. Legislation, industry guidelines, policy decisions, and the final implementation of partially or fully AVs is up to individual governments.

South Africa is one of the latest countries to pledge regulations for AVs, and the first in Africa to begin to formalise specific legislation for AVs. [2] The Government of South Africa in May of 2021 pledged new legislation and policies to “take advantage of the benefits associated with AVs, while also minimising risks and unpremeditated consequences”. However, the question is what the regulations will look like, and how they will compare to other countries.


Legislation for Autonomous Vehicles Across the Globe


Regulations from other countries can help make sense of the direction legislation in South Africa might take to fully realise the benefits of AVs and mitigate against risk. Singapore topped KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index in 2020 and has taken significant steps towards regulating AVs. [3] The key to this has been Singapore’s implementation of AVs for public transportation, rather than private use. To achieve this, Singapore has opened up a tenth of its streets to AV tests and has begun steps to converting buses into autonomous vehicles.

Singapore is a market leader when it comes to AVs for public transport and freight, but the motivations behind South Africa’s adoption is different, and therefore the focus of the regulations will need to be modified. South African consumers view public transport as cost-effective, but in the categories of safety, ease of use, environmental friendliness, and reliability, personal vehicles are seen as more favourable. [4] Therefore, the aim for AVs in South Africa is heavily focused on improving road safety and environmental friendliness to cater to the private vehicle market.


The Future of Regulations for AVs in South Africa


The next step for South Africa is understanding how the aim for AVs to cater to the private sector will affect the drafted legislation. Road safety is a key issue in the country, with traffic accidents being the ninth leading cause of fatalities in the nation for fifteen years, with pedestrians being particularly vulnerable. [5] Regulations will therefore need to address these safety concerns, with the government already taking steps to increase safety research.

Another key focus will be the question of liability regarding traffic accidents. The Road Accident Fund Act 1996 s 20(1) refers to a person in control of the vehicle, but concerning AVs, it is contentious as to who is fully in control. [6] If the human driver is not driving at a time when the AV is involved in a traffic collision, then the question is how liability should be decided. The conclusion at the moment within South African common law is that human drivers have a duty to intervene to prevent an accident and therefore they can be found negligent. [7] However, in the future, liability might shift from the individual to the manufacturer as cars become increasingly autonomous. [8]

The third area of focus will be on the environment. AVs in production are mostly electric, and therefore are more environmentally friendly than human-driven petrol and diesel cars. AVs can also limit unnecessary energy expenditure by limiting acceleration and braking and keeping to optimal speeds. The real fear is that AVs will encourage more journeys, therefore negating the possible benefits. [9] South Africa’s future regulations should look to encourage automation within public transport as well as private vehicles, in a similar way to Singapore, to make sure that there will not be an adverse effect on the environment.


Concluding Thoughts


AVs in South Africa look inevitable, with a need to address transportation issues within the nation. However, this will also provide an opportunity to improve key areas such as road safety, and making public transportation more appealing.


Bibliography

[1] A. Anand, "Top Self Driving Car Companies In 2022," 09 Aug 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.analyticssteps.com/blogs/top-self-driving-car-companies-2022. [Accessed 07 Jan 2022].

[2] Anon., "South Africa to introduce regulations around self-driving cars," 07 May 2021. [Online]. Available: https://businesstech.co.za/news/technology/488823/south-africa-to-introduce-regulations-around-self-driving-cars/. [Accessed 08 Jan 2022].

[3] R. Threlfall, "2020 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index," KPMG, London, 2020.

[4] M. Davies, A. Ori, M. Vincent and J.-H. Tromp, "Global Automotive Consumer Study: Autonomous, connected vehicles and multi-modal mobility, insights for South Africa," Deloitte, Johannesburg, 2019.

[5] A. Janmohammed, "Road Safety in the South African Context," 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.saferspaces.org.za/understand/entry/road-safety-in-the-south-african-context. [Accessed 08 Jan 2022].

[6] The Road Accident Fund Act, 1996.

[7] C. Chengalroyen, "Navigating the legal regulatory issues with self-driving cars in South Africa," 01 Apr 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.derebus.org.za/navigating-the-legal-regulatory-issues-with-self-driving-cars-in-south-africa/. [Accessed 08 Jan 2022].

[8] J. Brodsky, "Autonomous Vehicle Regulation: How an Uncertain Legal Landscape May Hit the Brakes on Self-Driving Cars," Berkeley Technology Law Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, p. 862, 2016. [9] Eco/ Green Living, "Will self-driving vehicles be eco-friendly?," [Online]. Available: https://www.environment.co.za/eco-green-living/will-self-driving-vehicles-be-eco-friendly.html. [Accessed 08 Jan 2022].

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