Bill to regulate autonomous vehicle use moves forward

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The Indiana House Roads and Transportation Committee advanced legislation Wednesday aimed at expanding the testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roads. Supporters say the bill is intended to balance innovation and public safety.

House Bill 1341 allows people with valid driver’s licenses to operate automated vehicles on public highways, but it requires them to comply with all federal and state laws and have $5 million worth of financial responsibility. The committee voted 12-0 to send the bill to the full House for amendments and a vote.

The bill also requires automated vehicles to be registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and establishes a so-called “state automated vehicle oversight task group”—comprising state and local officials—to which people who operate, platoon or test automated vehicles would have to submit applications and await receipt of approval before operating them.

“We’re committed to moving forward and encouraging innovation and we’re not going to compromise Hoosier safety,” said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who authored the bill. “The world is going to change, so we need to be ready for it.”

But critics, including auto manufacturers, said the bill would stifle innovation.

Damon Porter from Global Automakers, which represents the U.S. divisions of 12 major automakers, said he believed there was “an appropriate role for the state to play in terms of the deployment of the technology,” such as in registration, licensing and insurance. But he thought the bill would “frustrate performance and design.”

Matt Mincieli, executive director for the Northeast of TechNet, a trade association of technology companies, said the legislation would “make Indiana a national outlier when it comes to AV,” referring to autonomous vehicles.

“The task group is an unprecedented process, creating an unnecessary level of bureaucracy” that requires “multiple agencies to sign off on a single application,” he said.

Mincieli said technology groups wanted to “lower the barriers of entry” to participate in AV development.

IBJ previously reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in September issued what it calls “voluntary guidance” on safety elements designers should consider as they develop vehicles that can operate without a human driver. But, at this point, there are no hard-and-fast safety rules, Soliday said.

David Strickland, counsel of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets and a partner at Venable LLP, who was administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2010 to 2014, said his group was against the bill.

Strickland said he understands that lawmakers are “wanting accountability,” but he believed that federal authorities would be better suited to provide it.

Soliday appeared skeptical of the critics of the bill, saying he was “mystified” by their claims of “inhibition of innovation.”

“What your group says is we want no accountability,” Soliday told Strickland. “If we do anything that requires you to certify what you’re doing is safe, it’s a regulatory imposition.”

Soliday’s bill is being supported by both the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indy Chamber, as well as by labor unions, who said they were concerned about the safety of workers doing construction on roads.

Mark Lawrance, vice president of engagement and innovation policy for the Chamber, said he believed there was economic development potential in moving forward with the bill and expanding automated vehicles in the state.

Mark Fisher, vice president of the Indy Chamber, said “autonomous vehicles are not coming; they’re here” and said it was “time to embrace [it] but in a manner that is balanced."

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