INDIANAPOLIS — One of Indiana's leading road funding experts in the legislature says he won't try to send another bill regulating autonomous vehicles through the legislature without commitments of accountability from automobile manufacturers.
"I'll hear a bill but there has to be safety of Hoosiers equal to what we had, there has to be accountability," said State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who chairs the influential House Roads and Transportation Committee. "Legislatures in other states are experiencing the same thing we did — lack of candor, lack of truthfulness and trying to market way too fast."
Soliday's House Bill 1341, which would have set regulations for autonomous vehicle (AV) development in Indiana, ran into changes in the Senate and didn't pass the legislature by a March 14 deadline.
Auto manufacturers led a drive against the plan, saying they don't want each state to tell them how to research and develop vehicles. Currently, bumper-to-bumper vehicle standards are regulated through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but no rules have been established yet for AVs.
The manufacturers' effort led to a Senate amendment that removed some key components as a compromise with automakers.
"They want unlimited, unfettered, unaccountable access to every street and road to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and we're not going to do that," Soliday said.
Gov. Eric Holcomb had state-based development of the AV industry among his priorities for the session. But it was not among the governor's list of issues that needed to be resolved in a May 14 special session.
“With an agenda item that I was unsuccessful getting across the finish line, autonomous vehicles — and I am not putting that on our to-do list for a special session,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said he wants the state to welcome manufacturers and operators while ensuring public safety.
“What I don’t want to happen is Indiana be outdone by another state in terms of our attractiveness,” Holcomb added.
Many experts believe that the platooning of trucks will be the first evidence Hoosiers will see in the changing future of roads.
Platooning trucks have a driver in both vehicles; however, the second vehicle — only a few feet behind the first — has a driver viewing the upcoming road from a screen. The first driver is also in charge of acceleration and braking.
Platooning, however, violated Indiana law, which requires moving trucks to remain 300 feet behind a vehicle. In addition to realigning that standard, Soliday wanted definitions of who can operate a platooning vehicle.
The bill would also have formed the Automated Vehicle Oversight Task Group consisting of members from the BMV, the Department of Insurance, the Department of Transportation, the Indiana State Police and a representative from local government. The task group’s purpose would be to oversee and regulate the operation of automated vehicles.
Soliday's House Bill 1341 was heard in January, passed the House and moved to the Senate.
During a Senate Homeland Security and Transportation Committee meeting on Feb. 13, manufacturers opposed the bill.
Vehicles are currently classified by level of autonomy. Under Soliday's initial bill, Level 0 to 3 operators would have needed a valid driver's license; anyone operating a Level 4 or 5 vehicle would have required a licensed driver to ride along with them, although stipulations can be waived.
"We believe that a requirement that an automated vehicle have a driver present limits the mobility potential such vehicles hold for the disabled and elderly, for example," the Ford Motor Company said in a statement presented to the committee.
After distributing letters in opposition from GM and Ford, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said automakers considered safety a priority but that eight states allow for AV testing on public roads.
"While we agree with the bill's intended focus on safety, the alliance maintains concerns over provisions in the bill that would establish an unprecedented certification system (and) the creation of vehicle design requirements ...," Renee Gibson said, adding, "There's a need to clear the path for a higher level of automated vehicles."
About 13 percent of the workforce is in the auto industry in Indiana, which is the third largest auto-producing state, she said. AVs, she noted, could reduce auto fatalities, which totaled about 37,000 in 2016.
Two weeks later, Committee Chairman Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, introduced an amendment as a compromise with of auto manufacturers. He noted that Soliday would not be pleased by the amendment.
The amendment removed some regulatory provisions, including a requirement that AVs meet federal and state laws and that operators have a minimum of $5 million for financial responsibility.
By then though, Soliday added platooning requirements, with no mention of the word "autonomous," to his House Bill 1290, written primarily as a clean-up of motor fuel tax distribution legislation from the previous year. The bill was signed into law by Holcomb on March 21.