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Testing autonomous vehicles in New Zealand

New Zealand supports safety and productivity innovation, and welcomes manufacturers and developers wanting to test autonomous vehicle technologies. 

The NZ Transport Agency provides support to anyone undertaking testing in New Zealand.  The support is designed to ensure testing requirements are easily navigated, and testing processes keep both the public and testers safe. 

The information below covers an approved testing process and support for anyone wanting to undertake testing in New Zealand.  

An approved testing process 

Step 1: Make contact with the Transport Agency and be allocated a customer support manager

Step 2: Determine your vehicle requirements and complete any certification steps required

Step 3: Determine licence class for test vehicle operator

Step 4: Submit a safety management plan for on-road testing activities

Step 5: Apply for trade plates for your test vehicles

Step 6: Ready to test

Step 1: The Transport Agency can assist

The Transport Agency supports manufacturers and developers wanting to undertake on and off road testing of automation technologies in New Zealand.  

When considering testing in New Zealand, contact the Transport Agency at avtesting@nzta.govt.nz and you will be allocated a customer support manager to assist you. Your customer support manager will help you negotiate our testing processes and ensure testing is conducted in a safe and responsible way.

Step 2: Determine your vehicle requirements and complete any certification steps required

New Zealand vehicle laws are specified in Land Transport Rules. Land Transport Rules set out general safety requirements and approved vehicle standards. Approved vehicle standards are adopted from Australia, Japan, Europe and the United States.  Vehicles being tested on road in New Zealand are required to meet these requirements and standards or be explicitly exempted from them. 

If the fitting or operation of automation technologies affects compliance with requirements or standards, an exemption will be needed.

To determine what confirmation of compliance with (or exemptions to) Land Transport Rules might be required, establish the type of vehicle and read the applicable section below.

Type of vehicle

  1. Ordinary production vehicles with original equipment automation systems
  2. Production vehicles which have had aftermarket automation systems retrofitted
  3. Custom built automated vehicles that are not standard compliant 

Ordinary production vehicles with original equipment automation systems

These vehicles may have automation systems built in as original equipment at the time of manufacture, and are compliant with Land Transport Rules. 

Anyone wishing to test such vehicles needs to provide written evidence that the vehicles are compliant with New Zealand’s Land Transport Rules (external link) . Written evidence must include a Statement of Compliance for Approved Vehicle Standards. The statement needs to:

  • come from an authorised representative of the vehicle manufacturer, and
  • list the vehicle standards in New Zealand Land Transport Rules (external link) to which the vehicle was certified when it was manufactured.

Production vehicles which have had aftermarket automation systems retrofitted

Vehicles that have had automation technologies retrofitted after manufacture need to have the modifications checked to assess whether compliance with Land Transport Rules has been affected.    

Information to support your assessment of the modifications is available via the Transport Agency website and can be accessed at the following links:

If compliance has been affected, the vehicle modifications will need to be certified.  Information on the relevant certification processes is on the Transport Agency website and can be accessed at the following links:

Modified vehicles also require written evidence, including a Statement of Compliance, to cover their unmodified features.

Custom built automated vehicles that are not standard compliant

Some vehicles cannot be certified as meeting Land Transport Rules. 

These vehicles will need to be exempted from the requirements in New Zealand’s Land Transport Rules before being able to be operated on New Zealand roads. An application for an exemption from land transport vehicle rules (external link) is available on the Transport Agency website or through your customer support manager.

Note that exemptions to Land Transport Rules can only be issued if the risk to safety will not be significantly increased and:

  • the requirement has been substantially complied with and that further compliance is unnecessary, or
  • the action taken or provision made in respect of the matter to which the requirement relates is as effective or more effective than actual compliance with the requirement, or
  • the prescribed requirements are clearly unreasonable or inappropriate in the particular case, or
  • events have occurred that make the prescribed requirements unnecessary or inappropriate in the particular case.

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Step 3: Determine licence class for operator

Regardless of whether testing involves an operator being present in the vehicle or not, the test vehicle operator should hold the full (i.e. not learner or restricted) class of licence required for the test vehicle.

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Step 4: Testing and safety management plans

To secure the safety of those involved in your vehicle testing and other road users, you should prepare and submit a safety management plan for approval.

Your safety management plan should be based on ISO 26262 (or equivalent) and should include:

  • Description of the technologies being tested
  • Description of testing already undertaken and test performance
  • The testing plan, testing schedule and testing methodologies
  • Safety management accountabilities, lines of responsibility, and fail-safes
  • Risk and hazard identification, and planned management actions and treatments
  • Completed and planned staff safety training and drills
  • Incident register and exception reporting methodologies.

The Transport Agency may also request a demonstration of your vehicle or of safety management actions before safety management plan approval and before testing commences.

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Step 5: Application for trade plates

When test vehicles are used on public roads in New Zealand they generally do so on what are known as ‘trade plates’. Trade plates identify vehicles that have not yet been added to the New Zealand fleet through the full entry certification and registration processes.  

To obtain trade plates for your test vehicles your customer support manager will assist you with the necessary application forms, which include the trade plates application form (MR5) and the application for manufacturer prototype vehicle (external link) form that provides for exemption from vehicle inspection requirements at entry into New Zealand.

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Step 6: Ready to test

Once you have successfully completed the above steps you are ready to go. 

When undertaking your testing, your trade plates must be affixed to the vehicles.  Copies of the letter confirming the scope and conditions of your testing approval and the safety management plan should also be held and made available to enforcement officers upon request.

It is also good practice to provide timely notification to your customer support manager ahead of you commencing testing as scheduled in your plan.

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More information

For more information please contact the Transport Agency at avtesting@nzta.govt.nz.

The Ministry of Transport (external link) has further policy information about autonomous vehicles (external link) and specific guidance on testing autonomous vehicles in New Zealand.

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