Massachusetts, Indiana Ramp Up Self-Driving Vehicle Debates

With California and Arizona hosting advanced tests for self-driving vehicles, and Washington DC’s mayor paving the way for self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, other states are ramping up their efforts to respond to the burgeoning technology.On Thursday, Massachusetts held a statehouse briefing on autonomous vehicles to explore the concerns and benefits of introducing self-driving vehicles to the state’s roads.

Among the topics discussed were possibilities of lower emissions, increased public space and reduced traffic congestion.

“If you want one fact on transportation, it’s this: U.S. News & World report ranked us the No. 1 state in the country across all categories, including being No. 1 in education and No. 2 in health care. We were No. 45 in transportation. We have a lot of work to do,” Chris Dempsey, executive director of Transportation for Massachusetts, said in remarks reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The embrace of self-driving vehicles would also require investment in the state’s physical infrastructure, such as repairing roads and bridges.

The February 15 meeting followed a report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) released earlier this month, which found ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber were actually making traffic in Boston worse, as many of the people using the services would have otherwise taken public transportation.

“These transformations may become even more profound if widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles makes on-demand mobility even less expensive and more efficient,” the report noted.

In January, the state’s governor Charlie Baker signed Executive Order No. 579 establishing the commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth to advise the Baker-Polito Administration on future transportation needs and challenges.

The governor named 18 appointees to the commission, which will develop a range of scenarios anticipated between 2020 and 2040 and be used to inform the panel’s findings.

The commission will meet monthly and will provide a report on the analysis of members and make recommendations by December 1, of this year.

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) President Eileen McAnneny, who will serve on the commission, said in a statement that its creation reflects MTF’s recent report stressing how transportation is undergoing disruptive change.

In Indiana, a state senate committee took testimony Tuesday on legislation to regulate autonomous vehicles.

The bill proposes a series of regulations guided by oversight panels compromised of state departments of insurance and transportation leaders, and would also bar local governments from banning self-driving vehicles.

The proposed legislation has divided industry groups, with some questioning the safety of the technology.

“How are [autonomous vehicles] going to react when they come into a construction zone and you have a 180-pound man who is working a couple feet from 55 mile-an-hour traffic?” Operating Engineers Union leader Todd Vandermyd questioned .

In the nation’s capital this week, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new agency that will help prepare the city, its residents as well as the streets, for autonomous vehicle testing and other developments.

The Interagency AV Working Group is made up of representatives from other city agencies that focus on transportation, disability rights, environmental issues and public safety.

The agency’s first task is to create a proposal to test autonomous and self-driving vehicles on 10th Street, SW, near the L’Enfant Plaza.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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