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Is The Self-Driving Car Revolution Heading To Illinois?

By Stephen Gossett in News on Mar 31, 2017 6:37PM

Courtesy of Uber

Autonomous cars could be self-driving into the state soon if some Illinois lawmakers get their way. The Illinois House Transportation committee on Wednesday passed a measure, known as the Safe Autonomous Vehicles Act, that would allow self-driving cars to be tested on state roads.

The bill advances in the legislature at a time when the safety and regulation of autonomous vehicles has become an increasingly hot topic of debate, especially after a recent high-profile crash involving a self-driving Uber in Arizona. (Police determined the vehicle was not at fault.) But one of the co-sponsors of the Illinois bill is touting autonomous cars' safety, along with economic boons.

Rep. Mike Zalewski, whose district includes suburban areas of Cook County, said, according to the News-Gazette:

"With seniors, we see a degradation of driving as their reflexes and their motor skills start to reduce. I envision a scenario where we are able to use this technology to bridge that gap we've all struggled with generationally and say, 'I want to be able for you to get to church and to the store. I want to know that you're getting there safe.'"

The bill, like similar proposed legislation in at least four other states, is heavily backed by GM, which looks to make inroads in the self-driving market, according to Car and Driver. WGN reports that the bill's sponsors hope to have it in front of the General Assembly in April.

But even if the bill were to pass, and pave the way for automated cars in Illinois, there could be some renewed opposition in Chicago. aldermen Ed Burke (14th) and Anthony Beale (9th) proposed an ordinance back in September that would ban self-driving cars from operating in the city. The measure was never adopted, but neither have ever made it easy on rideshare operations in Chicago, the same companies that continue to heavily pursue the self-driving market. (Beale did not immediately return a request for comment.)

The original draft of the Illinois legislation would have restricted operation of autonomous vehicles only to traditional automakers, but in the face of opposition from groups like the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets—which lobbies on the behalf of Waymo, a self-driving-car company formerly affiliated with Google, Uber, Lyft and others—those stipulations were scrapped.

Advocates argue that self-driving cars are safer because most accidents are the result of driver error. But opponents, or at least agnostics, say that fails to account for all weather and road conditions. And Uber in particular has faced stern rebuke for what critics see as dangerous flouting of state regulatory agencies in terms of autonomous vehicles.