Pennsylvania House advances autonomous vehicle bill

June 21, 2022

Keith Goble

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A bill halfway through the Pennsylvania General Assembly is ballyhooed to modernize the state’s vehicle code to allow for the driverless testing and deployment of autonomous cars and trucks.

Currently, the Keystone State prohibits vehicle operation on state roadways without a human driver behind the wheel inside the vehicle.

House lawmakers voted 123-77 on Monday, June 20, to advance a bill to legalize and regulate driverless vehicles in the state.

Tapping the brakes

“Because of the fact we seem to be leaving that human element out just a bit too cavalierly, I am a no on this,” Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, said recently, though he applauds the “wildly successful” advancements in technology.

“From the prospective of change that is coming down the pike, there is no way to stop this change, nor should we,” he told the House Transportation Committee last week.

Carroll followed up on the House floor, however, that he does have concern about implementation, and assurances from some that everything will work out perfectly.

He has encouraged the state to “tap the brakes” on driverless vehicles to make sure “we get this right.”

Rep. Joseph Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, spoke in committee about the rapid advancement of safety technology of highly autonomous vehicles, but he shared his concern about how the technology will affect commercial drivers.

“We need to make sure regular Joe’s who do that job are able to continue to have access to being able to do these jobs that really have been a key staple of our economy … since we have had vehicles,” Hohenstein said.

Platooning

The bill, HB2398, now headed to the Senate would permit platooning with a driver in the lead vehicle. One nonlead vehicle would be allowed to operate with an automated driving system engaged.

A plan for general platoon operations must be filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for review.

Additionally, the bill details procedures following any traffic incidents that involve autonomous operation. Proof of insurance coverage equal to at least $1 million would also be required.

Safety benefits and economic impact touted

Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, said on the House floor the autonomous vehicle industry was born in Pennsylvania. He told lawmakers that the state’s vehicle code must be modernized for the industry to continue to thrive in the state.

Rothman points out that there are three autonomous vehicle companies headquartered in Pittsburgh, and several others with a large presence in the area that provide $250 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

“We must continue to foster this growth,” he said.

He added that the growth of autonomous vehicles in the state would improve safety.

“We owe it to our citizens to try to make the roads as safe as possible.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, said that Pennsylvania should join the 22 other states working with the autonomous vehicle industry.

“I think it is absolutely critical that we remain at the forefront of this industry. We were at the forefront. … Twenty-two other states decided that they wanted to be part of the game, and they have leapfrogged in front of us. It is important that we take this next step.”

Oberlander said the industry also would help address the current and continuing supply chain issues. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Pennsylvania.

 

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.