Pennsylvania PUC Wants Statewide Discussion on Autonomous Vehicle Regulations

Upon the release of self-driving Uber cars operating in Pittsburgh, the state Public Utilities Commission asked federal officials, as well as the general public, to be involved in discussions of the regulations needed to govern the emerging technology.

by Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / September 16, 2016

(TNS) -- On the heels of Uber beginning free rides in self-driving cars Wednesday, the state Public Utility Commission today called for “vigorous public discussion regarding the regulatory, legal and technical issues” on autonomous vehicles.

The commission issued a statement in which it encouraged state and federal officials, as well as the general public, to be involved in discussions of the regulations needed to govern the emerging technology.

The agency stressed that it has not received an application from any company to operate self-driving vehicles for a fee, which would be required under state law. Uber began offering free rides in self-driving vehicles — with a safety driver and technician in the front seat — to select customers in the Downtown and Strip District Wednesday as part of its “live testing” of the system.

“Any business offering transportation services to the general public for compensation must secure proper authority from the PUC before beginning that service, and clearly demonstrate the technical ability to operate safely,” the PUC statement said. “To date, no entity has applied for such authority in Pennsylvania, and the Commission has not authorized any use of fully-autonomous vehicles for transportation services that fall under the jurisdiction of the PUC.”

PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Fredericksen said the agency has had “on-going discussions” about its activities in Pittsburgh. Uber has run afoul of the PUC in the past and two weeks ago the agency affirmed an $11.4 million fine against Uber for providing rides for fees in vehicles with drivers without receiving PUC approval.

The state Department of Transportation has convened an Autonomous Vehicle Task Force that is expected to release recommendations to the state legislature for laws governing self-driving vehicles by the end of the year. The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also is in the process of developing federal guidelines.

©2016 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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