Ohioans may soon be driving alongside autonomous vehicles. Yesterday, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed an executive order that will allow self-driving cars to be tested on public roads. The move comes as some cities and states have pulled back from allowing driverless cars on public roads following a recent pedestrian fatality caused by a self-driving Uber.
“Ohio is well positioned to lead in developing the cars of the future, and just as Wright Brothers did at Huffman Prairie, our great state stands ready to once again launch a new era in transportation,” said Kasich. “We have the diversity in weather and terrain that are essential to advancing these new technologies. The sooner these vehicles are safely fine-tuned, the sooner they can make a significant reduction in the 40,000 traffic deaths we have in this country every year.”
The executive order authorizes researchers to test on Ohio roadways as long as their vehicles meet certain safety requirements and are capable of complying with Ohio traffic regulations. The order also requests that they register their vehicles with Drive Ohio, providing information on the vehicle and where they wish to test. Each car must have a designated operator who is an employee of the company performing the tests as well as a valid driver’s license. Designated operators will be required to monitor the vehicle at all times and report any accidents that occur.
The order also creates a voluntary autonomous vehicle pilot program to assist local governments in working with automotive and technology companies to advance technologies in their communities. Municipalities will have the opportunity to work with DriveOhio and create an inventory of testing locations that offer a variety of traffic and terrain scenarios.
Self-driving cars have had some ups and downs as the technology matures. In March, an individual was killed by a driverless Uber after the car’s software failed to recognize the pedestrian. Uber said that the software that controls its self-driving vehicles needs more fine tuning. The company has since stopped testing its cars on public roadways. Arizona has also prohibited further testing of driverless cars on its streets.
Other states have announced new regulations that will allow the technology but with more limits. In April, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation released a new safety plan for self-driving cars that calls for a certification system similar to what Ohio is requiring. Pennsylvania also has an autonomous vehicles task force in place that is working with industry stakeholders to ensure safety.
As states pullback from testing on public roads, some automakers are building their own test sites. Last week Toyota announced that it will be building a driverless vehicle testing ground in Michigan. The proving ground will allow Toyota to simulate congested urban environments including those with pedestrian traffic. The automaker said its goal is to help ensure the safety of individuals while also being able to improve its technology.
Michigan is already one of the leading areas for driverless vehicle testing. Kasich’s order is designed to give Ohio a piece of that pie and help to make the MidWest a hub for autonomous vehicle innovation.