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PennDOT To Discuss Regulations With Autonomous Vehicle Operators

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Autonomous vehicle operators will have a hand in shaping regulations that will govern how they test the technology on public roads. 

Within the next few weeks, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plans to meet one-on-one with the five self-driving car entities in the state.

In April, shortly after an Uber in self-driving mode struck and killed a woman in Arizona, PennDOT secretary Leslie Richards issued a series of draft regulations the state intended to pursue. The Pennsylvania Autonomous Vehicles Task Force was reconvened to refine its original recommendations, made in December 2016.

Current law never anticipated self-driving cars and needs to be updated, said Roger Cohen, who co-chairs the task force.

“We’re moving into an area of very fast innovation,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns and we think that the most prudent and safest way to be working toward advancing the development of the technology ... is through collaboration.”

Cohen said safety is paramount at PennDOT, adding that the successful development of self-driving technologies can make the commonwealth’s roads safer.

Regulation is always done in consultation with the industry being regulated, said Gov. Tom Wolf.

“To make sure that the regulations aren’t too onerous,” he said. “We want safety and security for our citizens, but we also want companies who feel that Pennsylvania is a place where they can do innovative things.”

There are five entities that test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh: Aptiv, Argo AI, Aurora Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University and Uber.

Aptiv, Aurora and Uber declined to comment. In statements made to 90.5 WESA, both Argo AI and Carnegie Mellon University said they look forward to continuing discussions with city and state officials to ensure safe testing and safe deployment of self-driving vehicles.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto chastised Uber in recent weeks for its plan to resume testing on city streets this summer. While he has talked about limiting Uber’s cars to speeds of 25 miles per hour while in self-driving mode, he said he’s working with the state to craft uniform regulation.

“We're agnostic when it comes to ... the company but when it comes to the technology we want to make sure that all precautions are being taken,” he said.

After meeting with the companies, the state task force will issue new recommendations. But unless the state legislature writes those into law, following those guidelines would remain entirely voluntary.

Peduto said he expects the legislature to take up the issue of regulation before the end of the year.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at