Indiana’s Future Includes Driverless Cars
Indiana may become the 22nd state to provide guidelines for the manufacture and use of autonomous motor vehicles, if House Bill 1341 becomes law. Introduced by State Representative Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, the bill consists of a number of regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, including safety standards and the creation of an automated vehicle oversight task group.
Some guidelines for the autonomous vehicle industry have already been approved at the national level by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Once federal regulations are well-established and robust enough for autonomous vehicles, they would supersede any state regulations. But until that day, Soliday wants Indiana to provide some regulatory structure.
What Does the Bill Say?
Among the many provisions of House Bill 1341, major points include the following:
- Forbids cities, towns, and other political entities from enacting any law or rule that would prohibit lawful use of autonomous vehicles, automated driving systems, and on-demand autonomous vehicle networks.
- Specifies the equipment that all autonomous vehicles are required to have.
- Creates an automated vehicle oversight task group consisting of state officials such as: the Bureau of Motor Vehicles commissioner; the Department of Insurance commissioner; Indiana’s Department of Transportation’s (INDOT) commissioner; the Indiana State Police (ISP) superintendent; and others.
- Enables the created task group to prohibit any previously-approved autonomous vehicle, platoon of autonomous vehicles, or testing procedures if the task group determines that any of them are a danger to public safety or are not in compliance with requirements.
- Requires that anyone operating, testing, or creating a platoon of autonomous vehicles must demonstrate financial responsibility with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), submit an application and an operational protocol to the task group, and wait to receive written approval from the task group before operating autonomous vehicles on public highways. During testing, a properly-qualified and credentialed person must occupy the autonomous vehicle.
- States that using an autonomous driving system or autonomous vehicle does not exempt an occupant or operator from certain obligations should a crash occur.
- Provides immunity from civil law proceedings, in certain instances, to the original manufacturer of a vehicle that is converted to an autonomous vehicle.
- Provides immunity from civil law proceedings, in certain instances, to a mechanic or repair facility that fixes autonomous vehicles.
The Latest Developments
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation says that Indiana’s gross domestic product in the automotive industry is the second-largest of all fifty states, so the economic stakes tied to the bill are substantial. The testing of technology that permits data-sharing between vehicles and traffic signals has already begun on three state highways by INDOT. House Bill 1341 would allow INDOT to find ways to adapt the state’s roads to new technology.
The bill’s opponents would prefer that the NHTSA regulate the autonomous vehicle industry and deal with any resulting safety problems, the same way it does with non-autonomous vehicles. Soliday acknowledges that the bill substantially addresses the business of autonomous vehicles so that Indiana can stay competitive with new technology. But safety is also an important concern to him: “We’re committed in the state to moving forward and encouraging innovation, but we’re just not going to compromise Hoosier safety.”
The bill is supposed to go before Indiana’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation in late February.
Do Autonomous Vehicles Bother You?
If they do, you are far from alone. A national survey carried out by AAA found that 54 percent of those who responded would feel less safe if they had to share the road with autonomous vehicles. A full 75 percent of respondents said they would be afraid to ride in one. Only one in ten stated they would feel safer around autonomous vehicles.
Whether or not we are all comfortable with autonomous vehicles, they are here to stay. What remains is for us to regulate them so that they prove no danger to public safety.
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