Kelley has long expressed interest in autonomous technology and the opportunities it offers Georgia since he was elected in 2012.
“It’s something that caught my attention several years ago and something that the more I study about it the more excited I become with the possibilities that it can leave our state, whether it’s just helping create a more efficient transportation network or solving some of the problems we have with parking in our downtown communities, along with providing a safer road network. I think autonomous vehicles offer all kinds of opportunities for us in those regards,” Kelley said.
Kelley believed the vehicles could provide another technology niche for Georgia by providing automakers a real life testing ground, if the state could move quickly on the opportunity. At the moment only Florida, California, Nevada and Michigan have passed laws allowing autonomous vehicles on the road.
The committee, officially named the House Study Committee on Autonomous Vehicle Technology, will submit a report at the end of the year before it is officially dissolved. Kelley hoped the committee’s findings and recommendation would lead to legislation during the 2015 session.
“When I drafted the resolution for the recommendation of a committee I did it with a couple of goals in mind. I see there’s a couple of issues with autonomous vehicle technology that we need to address. First one, utmost, this technology is coming. How do we integrate it into our roads safely to make sure we’re prepared with our infrastructure to handle it? Second, what do we need to do to capitalize on some of the economic development opportunities to come out of [it] and what can we do to help encourage these manufacturers to come to Georgia to expand their technology business? Finally, we do need to think about if something were to happen, how is the liability aspect handled in that regard? You need to be considering kind of the tort side of it on compensation or however you would handle liability issues should they arise,” Kelley said.
Though legislation was introduced in the 2014 session, the Legislature held off on approving the measure because the technology is rapidly changing, Kelley explained.
“We thought about going down that path this year, but talking with some of the manufacturers and some of the researchers about how quickly this technology is progressing, we didn’t want to rush into a definition that would soon be outdated,” he said. “So that’s why I really thought that a study committee may be the best effort. We can study, we can really see how the technology is progressing and then put forth a definition of the technology that also [works] with our public safety department and Department of Driver Services on what we can do to make this where it is feasible for this technology to be tested on our roads, because that’s how you drive the manufacturers to be here.”
Citing Georgia’s transportation problems — such as a single wreck shutting down Interstate 75 — Kelley believed autonomous vehicles could eventually provide part of the solution. In addition, the efficiencies of autonomous vehicles in terms of traffic coordination and allowing passengers to use their commute time to catch up on work rather than focusing on the road could change Georgian’s attitudes about traveling through the state, Kelley believed.
“One other aspect when you start looking at city planning and ... things like that is what autonomous technology can possibly do for mass transportation and creating a more efficient, maybe more affordable mass transportation option,” Kelley continued. “Busses are undoubtedly cheaper than rail and if you have a system that flows better because ... the traffic doesn’t have as many accidents and things like that, which would certainly be the result of having autonomous vehicles. You put people in an autonomous-driven bus and you might have a more enjoyable mass transportation experience.”
Four other members compose the study committee: State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), State Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson), State Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) and State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth).
Kelley said he is excited to head up the committee.
“That’s a new role for me. I appreciate the speaker’s confidence in me to handle the committee and I take it seriously. I’m going to work hard to get some real results to come out of this, to talk with all interested parties to make sure that we’re taking this serious and putting ourselves in a good position to offer some solutions as we progress toward the session,” he said.