In a state that was one of the first jurisdictions to remove horses from the mainstream transportation equation, last week Ohio’s Governor John Kasich became the latest state executive to sign an executive order designed to facilitate the arrival of another transportation revolution – one in which the human driver is optional – automated vehicles.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the last five years, fellow governors in ten states from Hawaii to Massachusetts have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles. In addition, at least 41 states have introduced legislation on the subject, 22 of which (plus Washington D.C.) have enacted laws.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of motor vehicle accidents are due to driver error, and the governor’s order claims that up to 80 percent of vehicle crashes that involve unimpaired drivers could be eliminated or mitigated by emerging technology. What’s more, given that there are over 50 million Americans listed as having some disability, one study suggests that automated vehicles could possibly create up to two million new opportunities for employment that cannot now be realized due to immobility.

Yet, the most important argument in favor of the technology is the potential to address the  more than 37,000 lives lost every year in vehicle crashes.

Like most of the other states, the Ohio’s executive order requires a designated operator, but that person does not necessarily have to be present in the vehicle. Since the order applies to cars that meet SAE automation levels three to five, a driver is necessary under the third level to assume control with notice, but is not required to monitor the environment. The fourth level defines vehicles that can perform all driving tasks under certain conditions; and the highest level currently defined is a vehicle that can successfully perform all driving functions under all conditions. At level five there are no steering wheels, gas or brake pedals.

The order also designates that each company that desires to test in Ohio must register with DriveOhio, the central state agency for formulation and oversight of smart mobility policy. The exact description of the company, its responsible parties, vehicles, testing locations, proof of insurance and a warranty that the vehicle complies with all of Ohio’s traffic laws are required.

The designated operator must have a valid Ohio license, must be a contractor, agent or employee of the testing company, and must actively monitor the vehicle at all times. Part of the definition of active monitoring is that the operator must be responsible for compliance with all traffic laws and possess the ability to determine if the vehicle is operating safely.  If it is not, the operator must be able to bring it to a safe stop under all conditions.

Following the announcement of the executive order some radio talk show hosts in the state focused immediately on the few instances where AV testing has gone wrong, saying that the vehicles should not be deployed until they are perfected. But perfection is a process, and Ohio is right to seek a future where this technology is integrated into a modern life. Doing so could save thousands of lives every year.

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