Indiana to Consider AV Testing Legislation

Indiana State Rep. Ed Soliday plans to file legislation in the next two weeks to propose a framework for testing autonomous vehicles in the state.

Indiana is the next state moving to allow testing of autonomous vehicles on its roadways.

Rep. Ed Soliday, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, plans to introduce a bill in the next two weeks that will be considered early next year. The bill would establish a five-member committee to oversee applications to test autonomous vehicles in Indiana. The committee would include representatives from departments like Motor Vehicles, Transportation, State Police, and Insurance, in addition to a representative from the local jurisdiction where the testing would occur. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) would serve as the lead agency.

“It’s an important bill, and it’s important to educate people,” said Soliday, a Republican, of his desire to file the bill early in the 2018 session. “We’ve been very deliberative, and tried to be very, very careful and inclusive, and I’m pretty positive about where we’re at.”

If approved, Indiana would join some 20 other states that have allowed some form of testing or even willingness to test self-driving cars. States like California, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan have been aggressive in their wooing of AV car companies, attracting the likes of Waymo, General Motors and others.

With AV technology so new, and federal regulations so few, Soliday stressed that his main goal is to provide a framework that makes the state attractive to automotive innovation while ensuring the safety of residents and motorists.

“People that elect me want to know that they can push their baby carriage across the street,” he said, adding that the move should help the public realize that the Indiana state legislature is very "pro innovation."

INDOT will oversee testing and how the system should be structured, according to officials.

“INDOT is very much in agreement with Rep. Soliday on the structure and organization of the committee at this point,” said Scott Manning, an INDOT spokesman.

To get to this point, Soliday, a former vice president of safety, quality assurance and security at United Airlines, formed a 25-member stakeholder group with a range of backgrounds such as insurance, manufacturing, trucking and others to put together the draft legislation.

“We are open for business. We aren’t going to compromise safety. Within those boundaries, I’m willing to listen,” the lawmaker said. 

The state does not intend to develop specific infrastructure such as AV testing facilities, preferring to rely on the private sector for that, Soliday explained.

Much of the AV testing today is done in what many describe as the fair-weather conditions of the West, in places like Arizona and California. Soliday says Indiana offers a wider swath of conditions ranging from winter weather, high-traffic corridors and road construction.

“That’s where the shoe-leather really meets the pavement.,” he said. “It’s one thing to test in Arizona. It’s another to test on [Interstate] 80-94 in a snowstorm.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.