Pennsylvania takes steps to lead on autonomous vehicle testing


Pennsylvania is taking further steps towards becoming a national leader in the safe, innovative development of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies, with the launch of a newly established task force and legislation that would allow the testing of fully-automated driving on the state’s roads.

Politicians, industry and transportation leaders gathered in Pittsburgh for the first meeting of a newly established Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force that will collaboratively develop guidance that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will use when drafting autonomous vehicle policy.

The agency is chairing the task force, which is comprised of state, federal and private-industry officials, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), University of Pennsylvania, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), American Trucking Associations (ATA), the State Police, and Uber, which has its Advanced Technologies Center in the city.

According to Carnegie Mellon University, which hosted the task force meeting and demonstrated its autonomous technologies after the event, the university’s faculty and students have been working for more than 30 years to ensure that self-driving cars will be safe, affordable, and ultimately, accepted by the public. The university has made significant contributions to CAV technology inventions and has created 14 generations of self-driving vehicles.

Also participating in the event were several lawmakers who are sponsoring legislation in the state Senate and House that would establish Pennsylvania as a leader in CAV testing. Senate Bill 1268 (SB 1268) would:

Provide for controlled automated vehicle testing, not operation; Allow flexibility to adapt to changing technology; Require companies interested in testing to submit an application and provide proof of US$5m in general liability insurance; Allow support for in-vehicle and remote-operator testing, considered the ‘Full Self-Driving Automation’ level, the fourth and highest level of automation as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“Autonomous and connected vehicles will be integrated in the next generation of our transportation system,” stated Senator John Rafferty, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “One of the primary reasons for Senate Bill 1268 is to test the incorporation of this advanced technology on our roadways that provides for safety, mobility, innovation and economic development.”

Citing the potential benefits for travel safety, the environment and mobility, PennDOT secretary Leslie S Richards said, “We are always looking at ways to make travel safer, and these new vehicle technologies offer a huge opportunity to not only advance our network, but also reduce human behavior as a factor in crashes. We’re looking forward to expanding on the innovation that’s already alive and well here in Pittsburgh, so companies can test their technologies in our state’s varied seasons and roadway types.”

Senator John Wozniak, added, “I’m proud that Pennsylvania is one of the states leading the development of this cutting-edge technology. However, it’s important that the public knows these cars are safe and SB 1268 addresses those concerns, while allowing Pennsylvania to stay competitive in this field for years to come.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).