It still seems like science fiction when there’s talk of how driver-less cars will one day rule the road and make our highways far safer than they are today.
We’re not there yet, evidenced by several recent accidents involving tests of autonomous cars. A March accident killed a pedestrian struck by an Uber self-driving car in Arizona.
But, while much remains to be done before we mix self-driving vehicles with those with human drivers in everyday traffic conditions, Ohio is moving forward as it should.
With the future in mind, Gov. John Kasich took a bold, but necessary, step this week by signing an executive order that authorizes autonomous vehicle testing in the state.
In doing so, Kasich advances a roadmap to encourage an emerging industry to “think Ohio” as new vehicle technologies are developed.
The order means Ohio will join Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan as places that allow self-driving cars on their streets.
In Ohio, research vehicles will have to meet certain safety requirements and be capable of complying with the state’s traffic regulations.
Test vehicles would be registered with DriveOhio — Ohio’s “one-stop shop” for “smart mobility” initiatives — and developers would have to provide information on the vehicle and where they plan to test.
Every test car would have a designated operator with a valid driver’s license, who is an employee of the company, performing the tests. The operators would be required to monitor the vehicle at all times and report any accidents.
Kasich’s 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. Cities and towns could work with DriveOhio to create an inventory of testing locations that offer a variety of traffic and terrain scenarios.
It makes sense for Ohio to be on the leading edge of the research and development of smart driving technology with its concentration of automotive, engineering and manufacturing already here.
The state has already invested in upgrades that will allow devices on roads and traffic-control signals to send travel and weather information to drivers.
Also underway are four smart road projects covering 164 miles of roadway, and two smart city projects. Those areas will become the testing grounds for tomorrow’s cars.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, is among those who advocated for driver-less cars. He authored the SELF DRIVE Act, the first bill passed at the federal level to address self-driving technology.
It aims to “improve consumer safety by reducing traffic-related fatalities and injuries, clarify the federal and state roles, and stimulate job growth and economic opportunities.”
Kasich, Latta and Ohio appear to be on the right path.
While the state shouldn’t cut any corners when it comes to safety, we also shouldn’t wait for others to design and thoroughly test the next generation of vehicles. If DriveOhio works as designed, the state can have both the economic benefit of businesses focused on developing the best smart cars and safer roads for all travelers.