Ohio moves forward on autonomous, but public still needs assurance

  (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

John Kasich signed an executive order in May that will allow companies to test autonomous vehicles on all public roads in Ohio. Kasich, who lost his parents in a traffic accident to a drunken driver, said he hopes the move will zoom Ohio to the front of the pack in the autonomous vehicle industry, creating jobs and keeping college graduates in the state. He also believes the industry's promise that the vehicles will make roads safer - resulting in fewer traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities. The safety promises of the technology give him hope.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 94% of serious crashes are due to driver error and that up to 80% of those crashes involving unimpaired drivers could be avoided or mitigated with advanced technology systems. Also, according to research from Securing America’s Future Energy, a Washington-based advocacy group, public acceptance is the number one obstacle facing the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. In spite of the growing safety of vehicles and the general downward trend of fatalities on the nation’s roadways over the past several decades, “the public has expressed instinctive and reasonable safety concerns about turning over control of a vehicle to a computer.”

To test on Ohio roads, a company would be required to register with the state, providing information on the vehicle and roadway intended for testing. The vehicle would have to meet certain safety standards and comply with Ohio traffic law. Each car must have a company employee behind the wheel with a valid driver's license. The operators would have to monitor the vehicle at all times and report any accidents that occur.

Kasich's order also allows driverless vehicles to be tested in Ohio. Companies would have to notify the state and city where testing is occurring.

Kasich's order also creates a voluntary pilot program for communities interested in vehicle testing. They could work with the state to create an inventory of testing locations that offer different traffic and terrain scenarios. "We're not going to permit, by the way at least as long as I'm here, communities to start blocking this," Kasich said.

Kasich said he watched other communities with envy, such as his hometown of Pittsburgh, as they inked deals with autonomous vehicle companies for testing and technology development. He asked his team to create a plan to make Ohio attractive to the companies. Toward that end, the state unveiled Drive Ohio early in the year. Drive Ohio will function as the forum for where the companies will register to test.

While there is much excitement and hype surrounding autonomous vehicles, and while their reality becomes increasingly imminent, not everyone is happy. FreightWaves has covered the autonomous trends in transportation for over a year now, noting especially how 2018 has marked the year of numerous startups launching various levels of autonomous trucks, and coming out of stealth mode.

Among them, Starsky Robotics, a California-based company, successfully finished a test run of seven miles with a fully unmanned autonomous truck, without a safety driver behind the wheel or an engineer on the sideline. “Ours was a truly driverless vehicle, and to our knowledge, we are the only people who have done a test like that,” said Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO, and co-founder of Starsky Robotics.

While there has been much discussion on the truck driving labor shortage, many see automation as the only real difference-maker so long as capacity remains tight. McKinsey estimates that autonomous vehicles could eventually reduce trucking labor costs by as much as 90%. According to Securing America’s Future Energy, autonomous vehicles could eliminate as many as 3 in 5 heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver jobs by 2030.

In June companies including Daimler, FedEx and Uber launched a lobbying group, the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity, to address AVs and jobs. And Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas congresswoman, introduced a bill to fund the retraining of workers displaced by self-driving vehicles in a sign of the growing concern. 

“The issue is not if new jobs will arise eventually in the wake of AV displacements (they most certainly will),” says the Safe survey. “But whether AV adoption will impose very high costs on displaced workers, their families and communities.”

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