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Operating an AV on New Zealand roads under current legislation

AVs were not a consideration when current transport legislation was drafted. Under the legislation a driver does not need to be present for a vehicle to be legally operated on a public road in New Zealand. However, most regulations and relevant international frameworks strongly imply that when a vehicle is in operation, it has a driver. Currently, any motor vehicle operating on a public road must comply with existing rules and regulations for the operation of motor vehicles under the Land Transport Act 1998, and other legislation that addresses the safe and secure operation of motor vehicles.

Land Transport Act 1998(external link)

Existing legislation that relates to AVs

The current regulatory framework in New Zealand has performance-based standards and prescriptive rules. Under the Land Transport Act 1998, these include:

  • prohibiting dangerous and careless driving
  • some of the road user rules
  • licencing of drivers
  • transport services, and
  • prescriptive vehicle standards.

This framework works for vehicles with level 2 automated features such as lane-keep assist, collision mitigation systems and automated emergency braking systems. If vehicles with higher levels of automation — levels 3 to 5 — begin to operate on our roads the framework may no longer be fit for purpose.

Levels of automation in autonomous vehicles

As well as the Land Transport Act 1998, there are other regulations that may be applicable to the operation of AVs.  These include:

  • the Accident Compensation Act, particularly section 35, which covers accidents and injuries, and
  • the Privacy Act which safeguards the privacy of individuals, data storage and management, and other uses of personal information.

Accident Compensation Act 2001(external link)

Privacy Act 2020(external link)

Exemptions for imported vehicles

When vehicles that do not comply with New Zealand’s standards are imported, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency can grant an exemption under Section 166 of the Land Transport Act 1998. This requires the assessment and evaluation of each individual case. Granting exemptions on a case-by-case basis is appropriate for testing and trialling AVs, but is not a sustainable way to manage a larger influx of vehicles with autonomous features.

Land Transport Act 1998 — section 166(external link)

Making changes to legislation

We are working to identify the regulatory changes needed to ensure the safe introduction of AVs on New Zealand’s public roads.

Regulatory considerations for autonomous vehicles