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Mining could help Australia lead the way on driverless cars, Rodney Slater says

Former US transportation secretary Rodney Slater gestures with his hand as he speaks.
Rodney Slater says automated vehicles could be important in lowering the road toll.

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Australia is well positioned to adapt to the new world of driverless vehicle technology given its widespread use in the resources sector, according to former US transportation secretary Rodney Slater.

Bill Clinton's transport czar in the 1990s said while regulators grapple with the issues of automation, Australia is in a position to teach the rest of the world.

"If you look at most of your mining, you already have autonomous vehicles doing a lot of that work," Mr Slater told the ABC.

"It's in a structured and limited environment but that's exactly the kind of environment we have to create for automation to be used in cities like Sydney and Melbourne.

"I think you have the kind of public leadership and the kind of dynamic corporate leadership to help Australia to not only be a player but a leader."

There's magic beyond the Jetsons

But Mr Slater said Australia and the world needed to look beyond comparing automation to fantasies played out on The Jetsons and Star Trek.

"Imagine your elderly parents who may have had to give up the ability to drive or someone who has a disability and can't drive can now being able to enjoy it in a way that is independent for them," he said.

"That's really the magic of this expansion of transportation and portability that automation provides."

Mr Slater said a challenge for governments, regulators, and motorists will be how traditional cars driven by humans share roads with automated vehicles.

"I think we'll get to a point where we'll have to have set routes in certain parts of certain areas you're likely to have set routes for all vehicles that will allow for greater automation," he said.

Mr Slater said 94 per cent of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error, meaning automated vehicles could be important in lowering the road toll.

The view from inside a Volvo driverless car on its trial on Adelaide's Southern Expressway
Get on board: There's magic in the expansion of transportation options, says Rodney Slater.

Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative

But, it's not all sunshine and lollipops...

Trust, however, is a major factor.

Mr Slater worries some technology, like drones, could be "weaponised" and possibly exploited, alluding to last week's deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas.

"But we cannot live being paralysed by fear," Mr Slater said.

"I think both the public and private sector have a responsibility to help the public with these types of vehicles and with this new technology."

Follow Peter Ryan on Twitter @peter_f_ryan and on his Main Street blog.