Legislation to allow autonomous vehicles out on the road

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. - Members of the connected automated vehicle industry came together at a conference today to talk about how to safely and securely introduce driverless vehicles onto our roads.

Folks are use to some automated technology like cruise control and lane guidance. But the thought of seeing cars driving without a driver is a bit surreal.

"Certainly when I started in transportation 20 years ago, I didn't expect my career to progress to the part where we were talking about vehicles that operate themselves," Eric Rensel, VP of Gannett Fleming, said.

There are already self-driving cars, but as the law stands now, someone has to be in those cars at all times.

"Once a week a car or vehicle crashes into a work zone, so how do we protect the workers there," State Representative Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland), said.

Rep. Rothman is working on legislation, House Bill 1958, that will do two things. The first would allow autonomous cars on the road, and the second would allow vehicle platooning. That's when a group of autonomous vehicles can travel closely together, at high speeds.

"The number one goal is to save lives. Too many people die on our highways - about 1,200 a year. This will improve safety," Rep. Rothman said.

He said it will lead to less congestion and less pollution.

"When you look at a lot of the problems we need to solve with society today, driverless vehicles are an obvious fix to that," Rensel said. "Over 95 percent, depending on what statistics you look at, suggest that crashes are driver error, so steps that transportation professionals can take to help solve those problems are vitally important. The technology is not completely ready to go today but the legislation we need will allow us to take that next step."

Rep. Rothman said there are already self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh, but there is still someone sitting in the driver's seat. House Bill 1958 has already passed the house. It still needs to pass the senate before it reaches the Governor's desk for a signature.