In October of 2018, Governor Bruce Rauner added Illinois to the list of states with programs that allow autonomous vehicle testing.

Testing in Illinois could be up and running as soon as this winter. Gov. Rauner made this possible by working with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and launching the ‘Autonomous Illinois’ initiative. The initiative is a public-private partnership involving multiple agencies and allowing for testing of autonomous vehicles in Illinois.

“This technology is here and Illinois is ready to embrace it. Working with our public and private partners, we can make our roads safer, save lives, attract investment and create new high-tech jobs throughout the state,” said Gov. Rauner in a public statement.

Matt McAnarney, the project manager at IDOT, added “We do want to be a leader in this. We hold a natural position where should be a leader, especially as it relates to freight movement. We saw the industry moving very quickly. I like to say we’re in the first inning right now, but the game has started. You can either be a fan on the sidelines or you can be in the ballgame.” Along similar lines, IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn called Illinois the ‘transportation hub of North America’ and ‘freight capital of the World.’ He believes Illinois provides challenges for all modes of transportations, making it the ideal place for autonomous vehicle testing.

Some details of the Autonomous Illinois initiative that stand out include a new registration system for companies or entities wanting to do testing and a system for identifying communities interested in hosting testing. Studies that will research how autonomous vehicles may have an impact on insurance and ride-sharing companies will also be done.

According to a study funded by State Farm in summer, 37 states plus the District of Columbia have issues executive orders or passed legislation regarding autonomous vehicles.

11 out of those states have authorized full deployment of automated vehicles. The rest, however, have only authorized studies or tests. The Autonomous Illinois initiative allows for Level 3 autonomous driving. This requires a driver with a license behind the wheel in case the car fails to manage any given situation. Level 4 and 5, which allow for testing without a driver behind the wheel, require changing the state law.

Autonomous Illinois initiative is meant to be tech neutral, meaning there should be no preferences for specific autonomous vehicle technologies. Addressing this goal, McAnarney said “There are no winners and losers being chosen. There was some legislation that was introduced that would’ve essentially boxed out some of the bigger players, some of your tech companies. We thought it was important to have them at the table and able to participate. So that was definitely a lesson we wanted to put into place.”

IDOT has also included the universities of Illinois in its initiative. The possibility of creating a test track for the University of Illinois system and Northwestern University is being considered.