Ohio Governor Paves Way for Autonomous Vehicle Testing

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order this week allowing autonomous vehicle testing on all public roads in the Buckeye State.

The move makes it legal for cars to operate without drivers, as long as developers register with the new state office for AV testing — DriveOhio — a department Kasich, a Republican, launched this January.

Vehicles also must meet certain safety requirements, comply with state traffic laws and be tested with a designated operator, who does not have to be in the vehicle while it is in use.

Executive order 2018-04K also creates a voluntary self-driving vehicle pilot program to help local governments connect with automotive and technology firms to advance connected vehicle technology in their areas.

The order also gives municipalities the opportunity to work with DriveOhio and build an inventory of testing locations that offer a range of traffic and terrain scenarios.

“We have the diversity in weather and terrain that are essential to advancing these new technologies,” Kasich noted in a statement. “The sooner these vehicles are safely fine-tuned, the sooner they can make a significant reduction in the 40,000 traffic deaths we have in this country every year.”

Nearly two dozen states have given the green light to AV tests on public roads — Ohio already allows testing of driverless trucks in areas where they can be tracked — but recent accidentsinvolving AVs have put a spotlight on testing and safety regulations.

“The executive order strikes me as a cautious approach to testing that is likely intended both to signal that Ohio is generally supportive of these technologies and to provide greater certainty to specific companies and communities that are trying to advance particular projects,” Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies autonomous vehicles, told The Connected Car.

Smith said it is this second purpose where he would focus, such as who is planning to do what in the state, and how it helps them.

“After winning the Obama-era Smart Cities Challenge, I’d expect Columbus to be more aggressive,” Smith said, referring to the $50 million in public and private money the city competed for successfully in 2016.

In a paper published in 2016, Smith wrote driving automation presents challenges and opportunities for the public sector, noting the bills introduced in many states narrowly approach both sides of this ledger by focusing on the explicit regulation and implicit recruitment of research-and-development testing.

Smith argues a broader strategy would provide state and local agencies with the impetus, the authority, and the resources to prepare for — and in some cases to promote — automated systems.

Despite public and federal concerns about AV testing safety standards, states looking to benefit economically are moving forward with test plans — most recently New England neighbors Rhode Island and Connecticut.

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced up to four municipalities could be selected for the pilot program if their applications to allow testing of fully autonomous vehicles are approved.

In Rhode Island, proposals for an autonomous public transit service are due in mid-summer, and the RIDOT will review and award a contract in the fall, with initial testing of a pilot mobility service starting as soon as the end of the year.

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