INDIANAPOLIS — The Crossroads of America is hoping to help lead in the development of autonomous vehicles.
The Indiana House voted 94-0 on Thursday for House Bill 1341, authorizing self-driving vehicles to use Hoosier roadways, under certain circumstances, and encouraging autonomous vehicle companies to test their new technologies in the state.
"Autonomous vehicles are on the way," said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, the bill's sponsor. "But if someone tells you when they're going to be here, they really don't know."
His legislation establishes the Indiana Automated Vehicle Oversight Task Group, consisting of state and local officials, that will review and approve autonomous vehicle systems that wish to operate in the state to ensure they are at least as safe as human-operated vehicles.
"Think of it this way," Soliday said. "Human drivers pass a test and a driving test, and if they violate the law multiple times we take away a piece of paper. An electronic driver of an autonomous vehicle, what we do is if it violates the law multiple times we can take back their permit."
The measure requires the task group to give equal consideration to autonomous products developed by major vehicle manufacturers and computer companies, as well as Hoosier garage tinkerers.
It also prohibits local governments in Indiana from separately regulating autonomous vehicles.
Soliday said a state law on autonomous vehicles is necessary because the federal government so far has declined to set standards for the growing industry of self-driving cars and trucks that polls show most Americans would refuse to ride in.
"They need to gain public confidence," Soliday said. "The technology right now is way ahead of public confidence."
Soliday admitted, as did state Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, and state Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, that any autonomous vehicle regulations enacted by the state likely will need to be revised in coming years as the technology improves.
But the co-sponsors of the plan, along with state Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, said it's important that Indiana take a first step now.
"Not too often do we get to vote on something, or have a discussion on something, that's so futuristic and really just kind of cool for the state of Indiana," said Hatfield, who christened the 72-year-old Soliday an "Honorary Millennial" for sponsoring the measure.
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, also noted that just eight states currently have laws on their books concerning autonomous vehicles.
"If nothing else, this puts us in the game with eight other states to vie for research and development coming to the state of Indiana," Moseley said. "And those are real jobs, folks."
The legislation now advances to the Senate.