Pennsylvania establishes Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force

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Updated Oct 27, 2016
Courtesy PennDOTCourtesy PennDOT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards announced Wednesday that the state would form an Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force that will help develop guidance the agency will use to draft autonomous vehicle policies.

PennDOT will chair the task force, which is comprised of state, federal and private-industry officials such as the Federal Highway Administration, AAA, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Uber Technologies.

“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,” Richards says. “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.”

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 says it has created 14 generations of self-driving vehicles and its latest – a 2011 Cadillac SRX – takes ramps, merges onto highways and cruises at 70 mph by itself.

By establishing the task force, SB 1268 would also 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 $5 million in general liability insurance; and 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.

“Pittsburgh being chosen as one of the seven finalists out of nearly 80 cities that applied for the [U.S. Department of Transportation’s] Smart City Challenge is a testament to the innovation happening in the region,” says Sen. Wayne Fontana. “Pennsylvania as a whole has a lot to offer and my hopes are that the introduction of SB 1268 will help universities and companies that are testing these vehicles of the future feel welcomed in the commonwealth and inspire future generations.”

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Various studies and research have pointed to autonomous and connected vehicles as having environmental and travel benefits in addition to reducing human error in driving. Vehicle functions such as maintaining more consistent speeds, communicating with infrastructure or other vehicles, and allowing highway officials to eventually to invest less in engineering solutions related to human behavior (such as rumble strips) are examples of potential benefits of expanding these technologies.

“The concept of autonomous cars is something many of us never thought we’d be discussing in our lifetime,” Sen. Jay Costa says. “What’s exciting to me is that right here in Pittsburgh, we’re in the center of where this innovation is happening at places like Google, Uber and most importantly, here at Carnegie Mellow University. Innovation brings growth and will have a lasting impact on our communities. As we move forward, we’re not only testing the concept of autonomous vehicles, we’re growing jobs and driving economic development in our communities.”

At the state level, Sen. John Rafferty, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, says these steps could bring additional economic opportunities as automotive and technology companies, encouraged by the legislation, could establish themselves in the state.

“Autonomous and connected vehicles will be integrated in the next generation of our transportation system,” he says. “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.”

“Autonomous and connected vehicles offer a promising glimpse into the future of our transportation system,” adds Sen. John Wozniak. “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 at the same time allowing Pennsylvania to stay competitive in this field for years to come.”

“With matters of public safety, we must be proactive, not reactive,” says Rep. Jim Marshall, House Subcommittee Chairman for Transportation Safety and sponsor of forthcoming autonomous vehicle legislation in the House. “This important legislation will get Pennsylvania out in front of this new and evolving technology.”

The task force and legislation build on current and past studies, work groups and coalitions in which PennDOT has participated. The department currently has representatives on the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ Automated Vehicles Best Practices work group; the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials Connected and Automated Vehicle Technical Working Group; the Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Deployment Coalition; the Connected Vehicle Pooled Fund Study; and the Transportation Research Board’s Technical Activities Council on Vehicle Automation.


Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]