Legal Alert

PA Governor Signs Autonomous Vehicle Bill, Paving the Way for Commercial Deployment of Driverless Vehicles

by Neal Walters and Casey G. Watkins
November 4, 2022

Summary

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill that makes sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code. The law paves the way for commercial driverless operations of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) while still maintaining pedestrian, occupant, and overall traffic safety.

The Upshot

  • The law establishes a self-certification program for AV operators to obtain a certificate of compliance.
  • Certificate holders may operate driverless AVs without a safety driver.
  • PennDOT retains the role as sole regulator of AVs on public roadways, with the exception of commercial operations, which may be regulated within limits by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
  • Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code provisions governing the duty to notify authorities and render aid following a traffic collision have been modified to accommodate driverless vehicles.

The Bottom Line

The new AV legislation is an important step for Pennsylvania as a national leader in AV research and development. It establishes an orderly and safe transition from development fleets with a safety driver to commercial deployment of driverless AVs.

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill that makes sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §§ 101, et seq., to pave the way for commercial and driverless operation of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the Commonwealth while still maintaining pedestrian, occupant, and overall traffic safety.

In 2017, Pennsylvania joined the growing number of states enacting legislation that established rules for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. However, that legislation limited AV operations solely to noncommercial test and development uses with a licensed in-vehicle fallback test driver (safety driver) behind the wheel. Since then, the AV sector has grown significantly and is now, in the words of the bill’s sponsors, “strongly contributing to [Pennsylvania’s] economy as an emerging industry in the technology sector.” Pittsburgh has become an epicenter for autonomous vehicle and robotics development and research over the past decade and many of the AV companies with offices in Pittsburgh have been successfully operating development fleets on public roads. After years of successful operations, the existing statutory framework was seen by many as an impediment to further growth and the widespread deployment of technology promising significant safety benefits.

The new law, signed on November 3, 2022, brings Pennsylvania back to the forefront of innovation with AV regulation and will likely allow the state to continue to attract tech companies. AV operators holding a new “certificate of compliance will now be permitted to deploy both “drivered” and fully driverless operations. Certificates of compliance are obtained based on a self-certification regime that requires operators to submit required contact, insurance, and safety management plan information. Applicants must also consent to the requirement that their AVs operate in compliance with Federal law and Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code. PennDOT has 30 days to review submitted applications and an applications that are not rejected within that time are deemed approved.

Additionally, by strengthening the preemption of local ordinances regulating AVs, the state legislature acknowledged the need for uniformity across the Commonwealth. PennDOT retains its role as the sole regulator of AV operations on public roadways within the state, with the notable exception of commercial operations. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission may require licenses and approvals of AV operators providing commercial services regulated by the Commission. AV operators deploying their vehicles on the network of an existing licensed transportation network company (TNC) may operate under the TNC’s license. AVs may not be operated commercially as school buses or to carry hazardous materials in most contexts.

The amendments to the Vehicle Code sections related to the duty to inform authorities, provide information, and render aid help to pave the way for driverless operations by taking into account for the driverless nature of AVs. Specifically, driverless AVs will comply with the vehicle code if, following a crash, the AV stops at the scene and either the AV itself or the operating entity immediately contacts authorities to report the collision along with the required registration and financial information. Traffic violations will now also be issued to the certificate holder entity, removing any ambiguity about the potential liability of a safety driver in the AV.

Among several other changes, the law also adds to the membership of the previously established Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee and expands its scope to include providing advice to PennDOT, developing technical guidelines, evaluating best practices, and reviewing existing regulations.

The majority of the bill becomes effective 240 days after signing. PennDOT has 60 days to promulgate implementing regulations or publish guidelines.

 Ballard Spahr’s Product Liability and Mass Tort Group has substantial experience representing companies that make and sell products in a wide range of litigation and counseling matters, including the defense of class actions, as well as regulatory compliance. Please contact us for more information.

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