How Should Pennsylvania Legislators Approach Driverless Vehicle Laws?

Full autonomy sounds like a pipe dream, but if car manufacturers are telling us the truth then driverless vehicles are not so far from being made a reality. Tesla’s Elon Musk has already provided us with the first glimpses of this reality — even though lawmakers have struggled to play catch up when adopting new rules and regulations to govern these new technologically advanced vehicles and their drivers.

How Pennsylvania legislators might continue to approach writing laws for driverless vehicles is still up in the air, but we can look to car accidents Socal for a decent idea of what they might do. Several questions might come to mind: Who is liable for personal injury or property damages — the driver, dealer, manufacturer, or mechanic? Do you even send a vehicle like this to a mechanic? 

You might not realize it, but these questions have been asked and answered around the world already — even if our own legislators aren’t ready to pull the trigger with similar laws. Another thing you might not realize is that our own home state of Pennsylvania is a major hub for the autonomous vehicle industry!

Founder of Pittsburgh Robotics Network Jackie Erickson said, “You can’t just take a vehicle and have it navigate safely on public roads overnight. It takes a very long time. We’ve been working on this problem in Pittsburgh for 30 years.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor of electrical and computer engineering Raj Rajkumar said, “Driving is the most complex activity we engage in.”

Rajkumar said that he believed Pittsburgh is “the birthplace of AV technology.”

Pittsburgh has been working on this technology for longer than everyone else because the city is deeply integrated with developing space-related technology — and that means autonomous rovers and the like, especially when considering ground-based vehicles. But companies still researching these technologies are growing faster due to new cash investments from even bigger companies who require the expertise. 

Startups like Aurora, Argo AI, and Uber ATG are all growing at an exponential rate.

Aurora Vice President Gerardo Interiano noted that ATG will soon be joining his own company: “We went from having 600 employees to now 1600 employees.”

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance Vice President Kyle Chintalapalli said, “We anticipated consolidation as being inevitable. What we were encouraged by is that it wasn’t just a buy-out, [it was] more an investment in Aurora’s growth…It speaks to the strength of the robust ecosystem here.”

But there are other factors slowing down growth. AV testing laws in Pennsylvania still require a human operator — which makes sense because the state is subject to very diverse weather patterns unlike locations outside Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

PennDOT Office of Transformational Technology Director Mark Kopko said, “Even if something goes wrong, you still have the trained operator who has the caliber to take control. It’s something the industry is behind.”

Even Tesla’s new automated systems require a human operator, even though Elon Musk has said the technology is nearly ready to take over completely. But even when the technology is ready, the laws aren’t.