Safety first, but let’s be flexible, Pa. task force says of autonomous cars

Give your feedback during an online forum from 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12.

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Uber's fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions from 2016

Jared Wickerham/ For The Incline
MJ Slaby

If a state task force had it the way it wanted, autonomous cars would continue to be developed and tested in Pennsylvania, while still being safe for human drivers on the road.

The Autonomous Vehicles Testing Policy Task Force today gave its findings to PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. In an overview of the report outlined in a PennDOT press release, the recommendations allow for oversight from PennDOT in multiple areas, including:

  • Requiring a proposal from testers of highly automated vehicles
  • Receiving a notification before a vehicle is put in autonomous mode
  • Collecting data on total miles, total hours of operation, size of fleets and location of tests
  • Accessing data that would be used to investigate a crash (something the car must be able to record)
  • Approving vehicle platoon growth from two commercial or three passenger vehicle platoon limits
  • Being able to temporarily restrict cars from certain routes, including routes that are requested by municipalities (The Pa. Turnpike Commission would be able to restrict routes, too.)

The task force also recommended that testers would agree to contracts that say the vehicles meet all federal and state safety standards and meet all PennDOT polices. The cars would also be required to have cybersecurity protections.

The state task force had 20 members including leaders from the state and federal government as well as from private industry, including two Uber representatives. Pittsburgh members included Carnegie Mellon University Professor Raj Rajkumar and Erika Strassburger, chief of staff for Pittsburgh Councilman Dan Gilman.

Uber launched a pilot allowing Pittsburghers to ride in self-driving cars in September.

Data that PennDOT would collect, according to the recommendations, is not data that Uber has released, including exact testing locations and details about what happened in two apparent fender benders involving the self-driving cars.

Uber Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy David Plouffe said the company is considering sharing information about crashes involving self-driving cars with the public, while on a panel with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto at the National League of Cities conference last month in Pittsburgh. That hasn’t been formalized yet. Peduto said then that, “The only way we make progress as a society is taking risks,” and the self-driving cars are worth testing.

Want to give your feedback?

An public forum about the task force’s recommendations will be held online from 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12. You can join on PennDOT’s automated vehicle testing page by clicking on the webinar link at the time of the meeting. Officials will present recommendations and answer questions, which can be emailed in advance to [email protected]After the forum, any revisions to the recommendations will be posted on PennDOT’s website. Public feedback is open through Jan. 12.

Making the suggested policies permanent will depend on legislation from state lawmakers in 2017, according to a PennDOT news release.

Check out the task force’s report here: