by Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune
Illinois is taking the first step toward putting self-driving vehicles on the road, but it may be some time before they get there.
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday signed an executive order creating the Autonomous Illinois Initiative, which sets guidelines for testing the technology and sharing information between developers, researchers and state agencies. Testing of autonomous vehicles will require a driver to remain behind the wheel, capable of taking control of the vehicle at all times, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for — some direction from the state,” said Roman Kuropas, CEO and founder of Burr Ridge-based Innova Ev, which is testing self-driving vehicles at Ohio State University. “We want to be able to do it in our own backyard,” said Kuropas, whose company uses small golf cart-like electric vehicles for ride-sharing.
Illinois State Police, the Illinois Tollway, the Department of Insurance, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will assist with the program. The state will connect communities that want to host testing with companies, universities and research institutions.
Since human error is behind more than 90 percent of fatal wrecks, the use of autonomous vehicles could save lives, IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said. “If you take that driver out of the equation, you’re looking at a safer system,” he said at a news conference in a parking lot at Guaranteed Rate Field.
There are numerous questions about autonomous technology that still need to be resolved. One problem is that drivers assigned to be behind the wheel of self-driving vehicles tend to get bored, so they may not react quickly to an emergency, according to technology experts.
The state currently is working with Northwestern University and the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses on a test track for autonomous vehicles in downstate Rantoul, about 15 miles north of Champaign.
Pennsylvania, Arizona and California already are testing autonomous vehicles. Last spring, Uber Technologies stopped its self-driving car operation in Arizona after a pedestrian was killed in a crash involving one of its cars.
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