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Safety Expert: Pennsylvania AV Bill Improved, Not Perfect

A Pennsylvania House bill aimed at expanding autonomous vehicles testing without a human backup driver is an improvement over the Senate version, one safety expert says, but it leaves room for improvements. 

Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
(TNS) — A Pennsylvania House bill to expand the testing of self-driving vehicles without emergency drivers is better than an earlier version in the Senate but still has some problems, a leading safety expert said Wednesday.

Philip Koopman, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the bill approved by the House Monday is "better" than a Senate version that he said had "very serious" technical problems in the use of industry terms and didn't provide enough protection to the public. Mr. Koopman is a member of a committee that developed safety standards for the Society of Automotive Engineers International, based in Marshall, and has worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"It's not there yet," Mr. Koopman said of the House bill. "It's not a long list, but there's still fundamental stuff that I think needs to be addressed."

Republican leaders in the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation want to expand testing of self-driving vehicles so the state doesn't fall further behind others that are promoting the technology. The Pittsburgh region, in particular, has been a leader in developing the technology and the state wants to make sure it gets its share of spinoff manufacturing and other elements for self-driving vehicles that industry experts say could become a $1 trillion industry across the globe by 2025-26.

The Senate bill, announced at a January news conference at Hazelwood Green where some of the local work is taking place, stalled after moving out of committee and isn't being pushed forward any more. The House version, which had a series of public hearings, is considered the main legislation now and goes to the Senate for approval.

Senate officials Wednesday had no information on how quickly the bill might be considered, but the Legislature is expected to recess for much of the summer after it approves a new budget by July 1. Often legislators don't take much action in the few months before the November election.

Mr. Koopman said his primary concern about the House bill, which was rewritten after hearings but not aired publicly before House approval, is language about which vehicles would be covered by legislation. The current language only would apply to those created solely as self-driving vehicles, he said, while almost all test vehicles now are retrofitted models.

"As written, any vehicle that you're adapting doesn't have to comply," Mr. Koopman said. "If that's the case, [the law is] toothless. It may not be what they meant, but that's what it says."

Also, the House version wouldn't allow local municipalities to adopt additional local restrictions such as not allowing self-driving vehicles in in certain neighborhoods or around schools. Pittsburgh officials, who objected to that provision in the Senate bill, said the city hasn't reviewed the House version yet.

©2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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