Lawmakers in the Hoosier State are preparing for what their governor calls "the next evolution of transportation.”
Each state is addressing the arrival of autonomous vehicles differently, and while Indiana was a little slower than most to react to the technology, a bill now moving through the state's legislature suggests yet another approach to governance.
The Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 1341 on Thursday, which would prop up a framework for legal operation of the vehicles in the state and establish a "taskgroup." The taskgroup, which would consist of officials from across state government, would be responsible for approving testing requests and would also be granted emergency rulemaking authority.
The bill would set basic standards for what is required of "automated vehicles," as the legislative text calls them, to be operated on the state's public highways. The bill would require anyone operating an autonomous vehicle in Indiana to be registered with the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and also require that automated vehicles comply with existing state and federal regulations. Operators also would be required to register with the BMV $5 million in financial responsibility for each vehicle being tested.
An automated vehicle found not to be in compliance with state or federal laws would subject the operator to a class C misdemeanor, which in Indiana is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Indiana is among the states without any laws on the books about autonomous vehicles. So far, 21 states have passed laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and at least 41 states and Washington, D.C., have considered legislation. The Indiana bill's author, Rep. Edmond Soliday, a Republican, has said that his state is a conservative one and he doesn't mind that Indiana didn't act first. Safety is the top priority, he said.
Soliday's legislation is supported by a governor's office that has made room on its platform for new technologies. Gov. Eric Holcomb, also a Republican, has in public statements recognized autonomous vehicles as "the next evolution of transportation.”
Indiana's bill will next head to the Senate for consideration.
As states examine how best to integrate autonomous vehicles into their existing rules of the road, the federal government is wrestling with its role. In September, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration approved voluntary industry guidelines, but absolute standards or laws have yet to be established.
For the commercial market, a bill now being considered by the U.S. Senate, called the AV Start Act, would allow manufacturers to put thousands of autonomous vehicles on public roads. The legislation sped through the U.S. House, but some senators are wary. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says she doesn't feel comfortable with the technology being put on crowded, fast-moving roadways like those found in her state. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has also expressed doubts about autonomous vehicle technology being ready for widespread deployment and has called it an "unproven technology."
Across the U.S. today, dozens of companies are testing their vehicles on public roads to prove their efficacy and safety. One of those companies, Waymo, Google's autonomous vehicle business, reports that its vehicles have logged more than 4 million miles on public roads.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 40,200 people died in accidents involving motor vehicles in 2016. Proponents of technologies like autonomous vehicles aspire to reduce that number to zero.