SPRINGFIELD (IRN) — Gov. Bruce Rauner opened Illinois for autonomous vehicle testing, which could get underway this winter.
Rauner signed an executive order Thursday ushering in Autonomous Illinois, a multi-agency public-private partnership to allow for local testing of autonomous vehicles.
“This technology is here and Illinois is ready to embrace it,” Rauner said in a statement. “Working with our public and private partners, we can make our roads safer, save lives, attract investment and create new high-tech jobs throughout the state.”
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn Thursday said the executive order will make the state a leader in helping develop future technologies.
“We are the transportation hub of North America, the freight capital of the country and home to millions of commuters in urban, suburban and rural environments,” Blankenhorn said. “We experience all four seasons, providing challenges for all modes of transportation.”
Blankenhorn said autonomous vehicles can help reduce the number of fatal crashes. He said 94 percent of fatal crashed are caused by human error. There have been more than 1,000 deaths in Illinois over the past two years, he said.
Some of the guidelines laid out in the executive order includes IDOT creating a registration system for entities wishing to test autonomous vehicles. Such registrants would be required to have a licensed driver in the driver’s seat able to take control of the vehicle during tests.
The Autonomous Illinois effort will connect communities interested in automated vehicle testing with industry, universities, research institutions and other technology partners.
Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said his city will be one of the first areas that will begin testing.
“These are the kind of jobs, these are the kind of high paying [research and development] jobs that this state needs and we’re excited to see that happening,” Ardis said.
Blankenhorn said Chicago officials have also shown interest, as have some southern Illinois communities hoping to do closed-track testing for freight vehicles like semi trucks. Blankenhorn said testing could begin as early as this winter.
State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, has been working on legislation to allow autonomous vehicle testing on Illinois roadways. He said he’s still reviewing Rauner’s order, but said it was exciting. Zalewski said lawmakers will still need to craft legislation to address issues related to autonomous vehicles.
“We’re going to have to reconcile the additional levels of autonomy in future permutations of these vehicles,” Zalewski said.
Zalewski also said the question of liability in collisions must still be addressed by lawmakers. The executive order says each vehicle should be covered by motor vehicle insurance or other types of financial responsibility as required by law, but Zalewski has previously said that doesn’t spell out if the person behind the wheel of a driverless car, or the driverless car’s software developer is liable.
Josh Witkowski, the state legislative coordinator with motorcycle lobby ABATE of Illinois, said he has concerns about the executive order. He said it opens Illinois motorcyclists to the “wild, wild west” of autonomous vehicle testing.
“There should be a true collaborative effort to come up with a set of defined rules for the testing program before launching the testing program and that doesn’t appear to be happening here,” Witkowski said.
He said his group, which endorsed Rauner for another term, is disappointed.
The executive order requires Autonomous Illinois to work with advocacy groups and other stakeholders to identify areas of interest.
Information about Autonomous Illinois is available online at idot.illinois.gov/autonomous.