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13 March 2020

The rise of the machines

Criminal Law
New South Wales


Traffic offences - Autonomous vehicle

Our client is contesting a charge of driving through a crossing with a red-light: as they will lose their licence. The client was in a vehicle that is designed to self-drive. Is this relevant in any way or is this a defence to the offence?


Thank you for the question.

The offence of not stopping at a red light or arrow is under r 56(1) of the Road Rules 2014. The offence applies to a ‘driver’ of a vehicle.

‘Driver’ is defined in the dictionary in the Rules by reference to r 16 and r 19 of the Rules. Note that 'drive' includes to be in control of.

It might be open to the client, if the facts support the submission, to argue that they were not in control of the vehicle – and therefore not the driver – when the offence allegedly occurred. If that submission were accepted, it could potentially be a defence to the red light camera offence. Depending on the facts, it might also expose them to a more serious charge, such as negligent driving.

Given the novelty and very wide implications of the issue, consideration should be given to obtaining counsel’s advice and potentially seeking the assistance of the car manufacturer for technical and even financial assistance with the case.

The client is in interesting and uncharted territory. To Mentor’s knowledge, there are no reported cases on the point. It has been suggested in some of the literature on driverless cars that the manufacturer should be liable for traffic fines. However, to Mentor’s knowledge, that has not occurred, and it also does not address the demerit points issue.

The commentary in the By Lawyers Traffic Offences – Local Court guide deals with demerit points, good behaviour licences and licence appeals.