Exactly a week after the bill landed on his desk, Gov. Tom Wolf today gave his signature to HB 2398. That means with the stroke of his pen, autonomous vehicles, aka AVs, have the green light to test in Pennsylvania without a human driver present.
This is a long-awaited victory for AV companies inside and outside of Pittsburgh, with leaders who’ve argued that keeping the safety driver requirement in place limited their research and hindered their ability to discover AVs’ full potential.
While through the years there’s been worry from the public over how safe AVs are for pedestrians, Pennsylvania wants to take the lead when it comes to developing the technology. And from the AV companies themselves to economic development orgs, stakeholders felt that the safety driver requirement was costing the Keystone State.
“This is a major step in making the region even more attractive to AV industry players seeking a competitive edge, including companies like Ford and VW, from whom the region would welcome investment,” said Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, in a statement after the bill was sent to Gov. Wolf for consideration.
For Wolf’s part, the legislation keeps Pennsylvania on track to take the lead in AV technology and opens the door for discoveries that could positively impact the commonwealth in years to come. Still, his signature doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about some of the concerns that were raised by unions and Senate Transportation Minority Chairman Marty Flynn about the law prior to its passage. In his statement regarding HB 2398, Wolf encouraged the General Assembly to ensure that PA workers won’t be left behind, should AVs disrupt the current workplace.
While interested parties such as the Regional Industrial Development Corporation, an economic development organization and a supporter of the bill, have argued that AVs would only help to fill positions where companies previously couldn’t amid labor shortages, Wolf said that it’s important that progress not come at the expense of workers.
“Often new technology brings job replacement, and we must ensure the Pennsylvania workers are protected and allowed the opportunity to participate in this industry as it continues to grow,” the governor said. “Further, as the highly automated vehicle technology evolves, the General Assembly must be ready and willing to enact changes to ensure the use of highly automated vehicles is safe and responsible for workers, consumers, and the public.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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