Pennsylvania already counted itself as one of the more than 30 states with autonomous vehicle laws; however, the Platooning and Highly Automated Vehicles Act (the “Act”), signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf on October 24, 2018, provided a glimpse of where automated vehicles are already operating in our society. While immense public attention has been poured on autonomous personal vehicle development and testing, the Act highlighted that the commercial space is where our economy can and will more quickly benefit from autonomously operating of vehicles.
The Act established the Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee to advise PennDOT with respect to technical guidelines, best practices and methods of overseeing the development, and eventual introduction, of highly automated vehicles. The creation of this Committee followed the Autonomous Vehicle Policy Task Force, whose final report establishing testing guidelines for autonomous vehicles in the Commonwealth was published in November 2016.
In addition to forming that Committee, the Act made two additions to existing law on the use of autonomous vehicles in the Commonwealth. First, the Act added authorizations for PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission to create highly automated work zones, in which highly automated work zone vehicles may be used in conjunction with construction and repair projects. Specifically, a “highly automated work zone vehicle” was defined in the Act as “[a] motor vehicle used in an active work zone, as implemented by the department or the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, as applicable, which is: (1) equipped with an automated driving system; or (2) connected by wireless communication or other technology to another vehicle allowing for coordinated or controlled movement. PennDOT requested this authority in order to pilot autonomous truck mounted attenuators, which are vehicles positioned at the beginning of construction zones to shield workers from collisions. The Act, however, granted substantially broader authority to use autonomous vehicles in work zones. The language in the Act covered any use of such vehicles, including those types of automated construction equipment already on the market.
Finally, the Act authorized PennDOT to regulate “platooning” and authorized platooning on certain Commonwealth roadways, including the Turnpike. Platooning was defined as the act of operating a number of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles in a convoy with each vehicle following closely to the vehicle in front of it. This addition contemplated a lead vehicle operated by a human driver with autonomous vehicles following along in a line. As automation takes hold, trucking companies and the military will reduce costs by having a single driver leading a convoy of autonomous vehicles. For now, platoons were limited to 3 vehicles, with the first being operated by a human. That number, however, will likely increase as these technologies are more widely utilized and proven.
With the passage of the Act and the successful completion of the second annual Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit in 2018, Pennsylvania made clear its intention to remain at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.