A car drove itself down the Tauranga Eastern Link , with Tauranga MP Simon Bridges sitting in the back seat.

The Volvo XC90 T8 SUV hybrid model zoomed down the highway after Volvo, NZTA, the Ministry of Transport and the New Zealand Traffic Institute teamed up in Tauranga to show the self drive capabilities of a "level two" partial autonomous car.

The car could accelerate, brake and steer on its own, but needed periodic small touches by the "driver" to indicate they were still there.

"What it means is that... The driver can get their hands off, put their feet back, and ride along," Mr Bridges said.


After his drive, Mr Bridges said the benefits of autonomous cars could impact New Zealand roads in due course.

"I think the main benefits of what we're seeing today is safety," he said.

"We all think we're God's gift to driving but we're not, and the automation here will be much safer. We've got a road toll that's far too high, this is a silver bullet in that regard over time, not today, but over time."

Mr Bridges said the autonomous cars could improve efficiency on the roads meaning cars could drive closer and potentially faster.

"We're at level two driving, but level four or five the driver really isn't needed. At level five there is no steering wheel."

He estimated that in 10 years' time autonomous cars would be a percentage of the country's vehicle fleet, which at that time could be at a higher level of autonomy than level two, where drivers could sleep or read.

However, this would mean policy changes and rules around driving would need to be looked into.

"It gives the whole of government a chance to understand it and learn from it, and over time start tweaking our rules."

Volvo director of product and revenue for Asia/Pacific Henrik Jarlebrall said the car would be best used while in queues or on highways.

"The car we have today is semi-autonomous, so you could think of it as a highly advanced cruise control. It does all the distance control to the car in front of you, it also keeps you in the lane so does all the steering, but as a driver you are always in control.

Volvo general manager Coby Duggan said the demonstration was "seriously exciting", in terms of transport for New Zealand.

"There are a number of brands slowly but surely playing in this space and I think it's going to be really exciting few years."

A level two autonomous Volvo of the same model would usually start at $97,000.

The autonomous car could distinguish between a dog and a deer, and had the capacity to recognise a kangaroo after testing in Australia.