Transportation

Pennsylvania Outlines Voluntary Rules for AV Testing

Though the state cannot regulate driverless vehicles without enforcement authority from the legislature, the Department of Transportation is expecting compliance to the recently released guidelines.

by Aaron Aupperlee, The Tribune-Review / April 10, 2018
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(TNS) — Pennsylvania can't regulate the testing of self-driving cars on state roads.

So it has to ask.

PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards outlined Monday a series of guidelines the state would like self-driving car companies to follow if they decide to test their vehicles on state roads.

Compliance with the guidelines is voluntary, Richards said at the Pennsylvania Automated Vehicles Summit, which started Monday in Pittsburgh.

"But we do expect compliance."

The guidelines come more than three weeks after a self-driving Uber hit and killed a woman walking her bike across a street in Tempe, Ariz. PennDOT will put the guidelines in place over the next 60 to 90 days.

The guidelines include sharing information with the state about who is behind the wheel of test vehicles, which cars are involved and where, when and how they will be tested. The guidelines will be in place until the state Legislature passes laws regulating the testing of self-driving cars and giving PennDOT the authority to enforce it. Richards said she will invite all companies testing in Pennsylvania to a meeting that she will attend to discuss the interim guidelines. She urged companies to attend.

"Safety is at the forefront of everything we do at PennDOT," Richards said. "Pennsylvania welcomes the continued testing of highly-automated vehicles, but wants to do so in a way that ensures safety is not compromised," Richards said.

Richards did not think self-driving car companies would flee the state because of the guidelines and expected them all to comply.

Richards asked Uber not resume testing in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in the state until federal authorities finish their investigation into the Tempe crash, and the company shows it addressed all of the issues that led to the crash. Richards asked that any companies testing self-driving cars that share hardware or software with Uber also suspend testing in Pennsylvania.

Uber's fleet of self-driving cars remains grounded in Pittsburgh and in Tempe and San Francisco. Uber told the Tribune-Review on Monday that it plans to continue working in a constructive manner with PennDOT but a spokesman declined to address the new guidelines.

Argo AI, Aptiv and Aurora Innovation also test or develop self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Aptiv and Aurora did not respond to requests for comment on the guidelines. A spokesman for Ford, which invested heavily in Argo AI to develop self-driving technology, said Monday that the companies will review the guidelines in detail and look forward to continuing work with PennDOT and local officials on safe testing practices.

Richards announced the guidelines at the opening of the Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit. More than 400 people from across the country are gathering Monday and Tuesday to discuss the role automated and autonomous vehicle technology will play in society.

The first panel discussion of the summit was about safety. Ann Shikany, a member of the Autonomous Vehicle Coalition for the National Safety Council, said confidence in autonomous vehicles has eroded since the crash in Tempe. She called on self-driving car companies to be more transparent about testing, safety and the design of their systems. Self-driving technology, to many, is a black box.

"It's really hard to be confident when you're scared, and anything that is unknown is pretty scary," Shikany said.

PennDOT's interim guidelines for the first time seek information from companies testing self-driving cars in the state. The guidelines ask companies to submit a "Notice of Testing" to PennDOT with information about the company, proof of a safety driver training program and that drivers have passed the program, names of safety drivers and their driver's license numbers, list of test vehicles and where, when and how the company expects to test the vehicles. There is no paperwork required of companies now. Companies are required only to have a person behind the wheel of the car during testing.

PennDOT will also reconvene its Autonomous Vehicle Policy Task to update the task force's recommendations from nearly two years ago. Uber is a member of the task force. Richards called for an independent review body and certification process for safety similar to what Underwriters Laboratories does for many electronics and other consumer products. She called on the state lawmakers to pass self-driving legislation and federal lawmakers to strengthen state control over autonomous vehicles.

PennDOT will also work with the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University to develop best practices for testing.

©2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.