Transportation

Ohio Governor Issues Executive Order to Promote Testing of Self-Driving Vehicles

The executive order opens every public roadway to research, but gives researchers guidelines to follow.

by JD Malone, The Columbus Dispatch / May 10, 2018
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(TNS) — Gov. John Kasich wants Ohio to lead the development of autonomous cars, just as it did with airplanes.

"Kitty Hawk, North Carolina — that was just some sand and a bunch of wind," Kasich said during a speech Wednesday. "All of the development of the airplane happened in Dayton."

To that end, Kasich signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at attracting more testing of autonomous-vehicle technology on Ohio's roadways, and giving direction to both government and industry on how to regulate and stage such testing. He also pitched autonomous vehicles, cars and trucks that are piloted by computers, as a way to curb accidents and traffic fatalities.

"Computers do not comb their hair (while driving)," Kasich said. "Computers do not text ... or talk on the cellphone."

The executive order opens every public roadway to research, but gives researchers guidelines to follow.

Cars must be registered with DriveOhio, the state's agency devoted to autonomous-vehicle research, have a designated driver, report any accidents and adhere to traffic rules.

DriveOhio will also work with cities and regions to create a database of testing locations that give researchers a better idea of geography, topography, urban density and other factors that can help identify the right spot for testing certain features.

Bob Myers, CEO of Pillar Technology, whose Columbus office hosted the signing event, said the executive order is another step toward turning Ohio into a hot spot for autonomous technology development. Pillar is on the forefront of such development with autonomous tractors for the agriculture sector and a number of automotive clients as well.

"We are going to do this in Columbus, Ohio," Myers said. "This is the future. This is a chase to be first."

There have been some safety issues with autonomous vehicles. In March, a vehicle being tested by Uber failed to stop for a pedestrian, killing a woman who was crossing the street in front of the vehicle. There have been other reports of vehicles with autonomous capabilities being operated in unsafe ways by drivers. These issues point to the need for more testing, not less, Kasich said.

The safe operation of autonomous cars, as well as the development of vehicles that could almost eliminate crashes, is what the Ohio Department of Transportation hopes to get out of the executive order, said Jerry Wray, director of the agency. He added that if the technology is done right, it could reduce congestion and greatly reduce injuries and fatalities.

"Technology is not a key, it is the key in (reducing) traffic fatalities," said John Born, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Columbus won a $50 million grant from the Smart City Challenge in 2016 that is meant to further transportation opportunities, and encourage more electric vehicle use and autonomous-vehicle research. Kasich hopes his executive order piggybacks onto what Smart Columbus is already doing, and fosters even more opportunities across the state.

"We've got the winning team," Kasich said. "We just have to put the ball in the end zone."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.