Automation

Pennsylvania Lawmakers to Align Self-Driving Car Regulations with Federal Guidelines

State officials said the U.S. DOT’s policy announcement will change their approach to addressing the topic.

by Aaron Aupperlee, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / September 21, 2016
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill detailing stricter insurance and reporting requirements for autonomous vehicles. David Kidd/e.Republic

(TNS) — State legislators crafting regulations for self-driving cars will work to align their bill with federal guidelines on autonomous vehicles issued this week.

Parts of proposed legislation sitting in the Senate Transportation Committee will have to change to conform to the federal guidelines, Nolan Ritchie, committee executive director and a staffer in state Sen. John Rafferty's office, told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday.

The policy announcement by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday “will change our approach,” Ritchie said.

“We have been awaiting NHTSA guidance, and now that we have it, this will certainly be a game changer in how we model our state legislation.”

Uber launched its fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions last week in Pittsburgh, making them available to select users. Mayor Bill Peduto said the federal guidelines consider “the balance between encouraging innovation and protecting public safety.” He said the city will work with federal officials on the policy.

Ritchie hadn't fully examined the 116-page Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, but said some proposed state policies and reporting requirements might be in conflict.

PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday she felt the federal guidelines paralleled the work of state regulators.

“We don't have to make any changes,” Richards said. “We can continue down the path we have set for ourselves.”

Richards said she is watching Uber's pilot test closely. Ashwini Chhabra, head of policy development at Uber, is a member of PennDOT's task force to develop self-driving regulations.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx held a news conference Tuesday to further discuss the guidelines. Foxx was flanked by self-driving prototypes including Carnegie Mellon University's autonomous Cadillac SUV.

Several parts of the state's proposed legislation appear in line with the federal guidelines, including provisions that require companies, universities and others using self-driving cars to obtain state approval before testing, carry hefty insurance policies and register and title the cars as autonomous vehicles. Ritchie said the state's administrative structure also follows the federal model.

However, certain reporting requirements in the state bill may have to be changed to match the federal policy, Ritchie said. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1268 required self-driving car testers to report to the state all crashes and each time the autonomous technology failed, causing a human to take control. The federal guidelines appear to reserve the right to require reporting, but stops short of mandating it. The guidelines ask that manufacturers submit and share data.

Ritchie and Richards said they expect the legislature to act on the bill before the end of the year.

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