LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Autonomous vehicles can help blind hoosiers achieve independence

Indiana is poised to take a critical step toward positioning itself as a leader in self-driving vehicle technology – an innovation that will make our roads safer; transportation cleaner; and empower Hoosiers who cannot currently drive themselves. Hoosiers will be able to fully enjoy these benefits if the Indiana General Assembly chooses the right path for its deployment.

As the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, the largest organization of blind Hoosiers, I make it my mission to ensure that blind people in our state can live the lives we want and transform our dreams into realities. One of the most persistent hurdles to that mission is inconsistent and inaccessible transportation options, especially for those of us who live in small towns and rural areas.

The advent of self-driving vehicles can open up a whole new world of possibilities that would bring about gains in independence, greater access to employment opportunities and more integration within our wonderful Indiana communities. If we combine reliable transportation with our own independent travel skills, there is nothing that can stop us.

Unfortunately, the legislation which was designed to open our state to self-driving innovation has hit a major detour. The version of House Bill 1341 sponsored by Representative Ed Soliday and passed through the House creates burdensome regulations and unnecessary roadblocks to the eventual deployment of self-driving vehicles, hampering the bill’s original intent.

While these regulations are supposedly put forth for safety reasons, they actually have the opposite impact, by effectively blocking the safe deployment of this life-saving technology.

One example that is particularly important to me is how the bill imposes discriminatory licensing requirements that would prohibit blind people and others who do not or cannot obtain traditional driver’s licenses from fully and equally enjoying the benefits of self-driving vehicles.

Recognizing the inherent problems in the House-passed version, Senate Homeland Security & Transportation Chairman Michael Crider has amended House Bill 1341 in the Senate.

His version of the bill takes a far more inclusive, pro-innovation, and safety-first approach to the deployment of self-driving vehicles in Indiana. And yes, it also removes those awful licensing requirements and ensures that those of us who would benefit most from this new technology are able to actually do so. Chairman Crider’s current Senate path is the one Indiana should take if it truly cares about Hoosiers’ safety and safe mobility. We sit at a crossroads here in Indiana. The legislative path that we choose regarding House Bill 1341 will become the regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles in Indiana and will determine how much of the innumerable benefits of independence we will enjoy.

The House path is riddled with potholes, delays and detours. The Senate path being championed by Chairman Crider maximizes the benefits and minimizes the downsides. That is why the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana applauds Chairman Crider and his efforts to ensure that Indiana has the opportunity to benefit from self-driving vehicle technology while also promoting the fullest possible inclusion and access for all Hoosiers. We urge the rest of the Indiana state legislature to support Chairman Crider and, by extension, a smooth path for self-driving vehicles in Indiana.

— Ron Brown, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, southern Indiana