Proposed self-driving car law idles ahead of Harrisburg’s summer break

Stakeholders are “trying to come to the middle, where we need to be.”

MJ Slaby

Updated, 2:26 p.m.

A proposed bill regulating the testing of self-driving cars in Pennsylvania won’t go before the Senate Transportation committee before lawmakers break for the summer.

Remember Senate Bill 427? It would require self-driving car testers to apply to test and give data to PennDOT as well as mark the cars as a HAV or “highly automated vehicle.” It also said that it’s possible for the cars to not have humans in them.

The proposed legislation has until the end of the 2017-2018 session (Dec. 31, 2018) to move toward becoming law, Nolan Ritchie, executive director of the state Senate Transportation Committee, told The Incline today.

Ritchie sent an email today to more than 100 stakeholders regarding Senate Bill 427, which would regulate self-driving car testing, and shared that email with The Incline.

Ritchie wrote in the email that after a joint hearing of state House and Senate transportation committees in March, an amendment was drafted to start resolving issues posed at the hearing. Several stakeholders who spoke at the hearing met a few weeks ago to review the draft amendment. Per Ritchie’s email:

Even though this informational meeting was productive, challenges remained with identifying the best legislative framework for HAV testing in Pennsylvania.

We will continue to assess the feedback received, hold stakeholder meetings, review alternative approaches, etc. throughout the summertime.

Ritchie told The Incline that there are stakeholders on both ends of the spectrum, “trying to come to the middle, where we need to be,” and issues remain “on almost every topic.”

Plus, he said, the state still has no idea if the federal government will impose anything that would supersede what Pennsylvania does. On Monday, Reuters reported that U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said new self-driving guidelines “will be released in the next few months, if not sooner.”

The potential Pa. legislation is a significant undertaking and anything this big doesn’t occur overnight, Ritchie said. He closed the email by writing:

HAV testing (and deployment) is a significant legislative endeavor, and more time is needed to work on the legislation to ensure the issues of safety, liability, economic development, etc. are addressed.

At the March joint hearing, industry representatives urged the state for a more flexible bill and to account for deployment. The bill is a “well-intended effort,” Chan Lieu, policy advisor for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, composed of Ford, Lyft, Uber, Volvo Cars and Waymo said at the hearing. He added that “a testing-only approach would send a sign that deployment is not welcome [in the state]” and the bill will quickly be outdated.

Senate Bill 427 was introduced in February by 10 state senators including Allegheny County’s James Brewster (D), Jay Costa (D), Wayne D. Fontana (D) and Randy Vulakovich (R). Catch up on the bill’s highlights here. It built on a previous bill that didn’t make it out of the senate transportation committee in the 2015-16 session. The only state law that currently applies to testing is that a licensed driver needs to be in the front seat. That law doesn’t specify that the driver must be touching the steering wheel.

You can read Ritchie’s email here: