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Coming soon: self-driving cars

Cars that drive themselves could be on sale by the end of the year.

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Your car could soon be driving you to work or up the highway on holidays.

Car makers are racing to become the first to offer a self-driving vehicle to the public, with German luxury brand Mercedes-Benz this week claiming it will be the first to market later this year.

Victorian road safety authorities support the concept, but authorities elsewhere have thrown up a roadblock.

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Racing ahead ... car makers are in a race to market the first self-driving vehicle. Photo: Supplied

Mercedes-Benz's head of research and development, Professor Thomas Weber, said the company would be able to offer a car that can control itself in low-speed situations initially, but eventually will be capable of handling highway speeds.

''I believe we will start parking, queuing up in stop-and-go situations and then next step will be autobahns,'' Professor Weber said. ''It will be a move into 100 per cent autonomous driving.''

He said the main barriers to autonomous driving were road authorities, which have not allowed the use of self-driven cars on public roads except for testing purposes.

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At present, there are few places in the world car makers can test autonomous cars on public roads. Google, which is developing its own self-driving vehicle, helped push through new legislation in the US states of Nevada, California and Florida to allow Google to legally drive its driver-less car with the general public. A statement from VicRoads and the Minister for Roads, Terry Mulder, said they were supportive of self-driving cars, viewing it as a way to cut accidents.

''In many situations these technologies may be able to provide significant road safety advantages by reducing dangerous behaviours such as distracted or fatigued driving and also contribute to reduced congestion.''

But they did caution against driver apathy if the technology became widespread.

''However, we need to understand their effectiveness and ensure they do not lull drivers into a false sense of security whereby inappropriate behaviours may result from the autonomous nature of these vehicles.''

Transport for NSW has labelled the technology ''a major risk to road users''.

But New South Wales Roads Minister Duncan Gay joined his Victorian counterpart in supporting the technology.

Mr Gay said he would personally try such a system, but only if motorists could quickly regain control of the vehicle.

Lauchlan McIntosh, chairman of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, said Australian Design Rules had been rewritten to allow the use of autonomous emergency braking and that the Department of Infrastructure and Transport must revise its requirements to allow the high-tech cars on public roads.

With Toby Hagon