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Pennsylvania House Advances Driverless Vehicle Bill

The legislation passed on Monday, June 20, and would allow autonomous vehicle companies to deploy and test driverless cars and trucks on city streets. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

(TNS) — Driverless vehicles without an emergency driver could be coming to Pittsburgh's streets, as Pennsylvania hopes to become the nation's leader in the industry.

The Pennsylvania House passed a bill Monday, June 20, by a vote of 123-77, to allow autonomous vehicle companies to deploy and test driverless cars and trucks.

Pittsburgh is already a national hub for self-driving technology, with companies like Argo AI, Locomation and Aurora Innovation investing billions in the area on its development. Driverless vehicles are expected to become a $1 trillion industry by 2025-26 — and is already estimated to have created 6,300 jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania and $651 million in labor income.

The state was long recognized as a leader for driverless vehicles, after the state deployed one to help clean up the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Harrisburg in 1979.

Now, lawmakers said the state has fallen behind others by failing to update its vehicle code to allow for driverless vehicle testing.

"What we've found is we were in the forefront," said Rep. Donna Oberlander, R- Clarion, who introduced the bill. "We then saw such great advances that 22 other states decided they wanted to be a part of the game. Now they've leapfrogged in front of us."

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. An inquiry to the Senate Transportation committee chairman was not immediately returned.

If the bill makes it through the Senate this year, it would allow driverless vehicle developers — following regulations created by PennDOT — to deploy driverless passenger vehicles, as well as so-called "platoons," where a driverless truck follows close behind another truck driven by a person.

Three Republicans and 74 Democrats, including eight Pittsburgh-area representatives, opposed the bill. Rep. Sara Innamorato, D- Lawrenceville, said she opposed it because it still did not address some labor union concerns.

" Pittsburgh is ground-zero for autonomous vehicles. I feel like I see six autonomous vehicles a day," said Ms. Innamorato, who lives in Lawrenceville. "They're very present and visible in the city."

Ms. Innamorato tried to amend the bill earlier this month to require a human driver to monitor a vehicle when moving goods across state lines or when transporting eight or more people. This would have made Pennsylvania's law more similar to those in Arizona or Nevada, she said. Her amendment failed.

A different amendment — one that would require autonomous vehicle companies to add at least $1 million liability insurance in case of accidents — did get added to the bill before it passed on Monday.

Members of a Pennsylvania Senate committee considered similar legislation earlier this year, but it never went to the full Senate for a vote.

Rep. Mike Carroll, D- Luzerne, who is the minority chairman of the House Transportation committee, told his Democratic colleagues on the House floor to oppose the House version and he believed the Senate version was more robust.

Rep. Eric Nelson, R- Hempfield, said last week he'd previously opposed driverless vehicle legislation due to safety concerns. Since then, however, he said he found the accuracy of these vehicles compelling and supported the bill on Monday.

GOP lawmakers said they hope this bill would decrease the number of people who are injured or killed in vehicle crashes each year and to help the state address its truck driver shortage.

The House Appropriations Committee estimates this legislation would accrue a one-time cost of $400,000, so PennDOT could upgrade its systems and pay consultants to roll out the program.

(c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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