Three possible self-driving car laws to keep an eye on in Pennsylvania

Two are at the state level and one would be federal.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

If draft legislation from a U.S. House panel is successful, Pennsylvania and other states will be limited in the types of laws they can make about self-driving cars.

On Wednesday, a U.S. House subcommittee advanced draft legislation regarding self-driving vehicles to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, with lawmakers expecting the edits to continue.

As is, the legislation bans states from making rules about design and construction of the vehicles, as well as rules about their mechanical, hardware, software or communications systems. States, however, would be able to regulate “registration, licensing, liability, driving education and training, insurance, safety inspections, or traffic law or regulation,” when it comes to self-driving vehicles, as long as those rules don’t put an “unreasonable restriction” on the areas states are barred from making rules about.

On the state level, there are two bills — one in the Pa. House and one in the Pa. Senate — regarding self-driving cars. State Senate Bill 427 was introduced in February by 10 state senators including four from Allegheny County, and House Bill 1637 was introduced June 28 by Republican Rep. Jim Marshall of District 14, which includes Beaver and Butler counties.

To keep track of the proposed rules, here’s a recap and what to expect next:

Federal legislation

No local U.S. representatives were on the subcommittee that created the draft of federal legislation, but two — Democrat Mike Doyle and Tim Murphy, a Republican — are on the Energy and Commerce committee which will look at the bill next.

Here are the highlights:

  • Safety assessment certifications will be required.
  • The Secretary of Transportation will make a “rulemaking and safety priority plan” that accommodates for the development and deployment of self-driving cars.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will decide what elements of the vehicles, such as sensors and processors, need performance standards.
  • The car owners will need to have a cybersecurity plan for detecting, responding to and preventing cyber attacks and unauthorized intrusions.
  • A council of business leaders, researchers and others will give recommendations regarding topics such as accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as cybersecurity, environmental impact and more.
  • Unrelated to self-driving cars, the bill also includes a rule requiring certain new cars to have an alert system that would prevent drivers from leaving children in the back seat, as well as updated headlamp standards.

What’s next: A full committee markup meeting is expected next week, but the full U.S. House of Representatives won’t address the bill until at least September after the summer recess, reported Reuters.

Read the draft here:

A pair of state bills

With a self-driving car bill already introduced in the state Senate, Jim Marshall, a member of the house transportation committee wanted a bill in the House, too, so he introduced House Bill 1637 as a starting point. The bill focuses more on deployment than Senate Bill 427, which would largely regulate testing.

In March, industry representatives urged lawmakers for a more flexible bill than Senate Bill 427 and to account for deployment during a joint hearing of state House and Senate transportation committees. After that, the senate bill continues to be revised, while Marshall said he decided to focus a bill on deployment.

“Testing might be resolved first, then deployment would follow,” he said. Marshall was especially interested in platooning, which allows multiple vehicles to be controlled by one source and said he expects it and ride-sharing to be the first waves of self-driving car deployment before the cars are purchased by the general public.

Here are the highlights, many of which overlap with the testing rules proposed in the state Senate:

  • A self-driving car could have no human driver if the car meets applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, can follow traffic and safety laws and would be a minimal risk if something stopped working.
  • The vehicles would be required to have insurance and be registered and titled.
  • The bill allows for on-demand autonomous vehicle networks for ride-sharing.
  • Municipalities wouldn’t be allowed to make rules regarding the vehicles to ensure universal expectations statewide.

Marshall said he’s open to edits and amendments and added that the final law may be the state senate version, the state house version or a version that’s a little of both.

What’s next: Expect more drafts. Senate Bill 427 is undergoing edits and Marshall said he’s collecting more information to see what amendments are needed for the state House bill.

Read HB 1637 here: