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Self-driving vehicle legislation advances in Harrisburg

House Bill 2398 recently passed through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. It heads to the Senate for consideration next.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Cars...without drivers.

While it’s not a new idea, it’s one Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of through testing, research, and development.

“Fifty-six of our 67 counties have testing occurring right now," Mark Kopko, PennDOT's director of transformational technology said. "A lot of those are on limited access networks in their interstates but there are some in urban areas, especially around Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh metropolitan region.”

Right now, any self-driving cars tested in the Commonwealth must have a human sitting in the driver’s seat, as well as someone in the passenger’s seat.

Republican State Representative Donna Oberlander of Clarion, Forest, and Armstrong Counties is the prime sponsor of House Bill 2398, which would update Pennsylvania’s vehicle code to change that.

“The bill would allow them to get to the point in the future where they could literally test the vehicle without the driver,” she explained.

The bill has passed through the House of Representatives, putting it one step closer to becoming law.

Proponents of the legislation say autonomous vehicle technology has several benefits.

“It’s a mode of transportation for individuals who don’t have a driver’s license or need to be able to get back and forth to work but can’t," Rep. Oberlander said. 

She believes the vehicles would ultimately save lives.

"They’re never drunk, they’re never texting, they’re never tired, they’re never worried about their kids who are sick and they have to pick them up," Rep. Oberlander said. "It is futuristic but it ultimately will take away some of those distracted driving issues that cost people their lives.”

PennDOT is working closely with developers and lawmakers to make sure the technology falls in line with all safety guidelines.

“Ultimately things are working toward a level where you can have that level of autonomy in a variety of conditions, variety of areas," Kopko said. "That will take time.”

Ryan Unger, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, believes Harrisburg has the potential to be at the center of it all.

“We’re at the forefront in Pittsburgh but being at the center of the logistics industry here in the Harrisburg region, there are incredible opportunities to make our travel more efficient, our logistics more efficient, and also improve our supply chains," Unger said. 

House Bill 2398 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

If it passes there, it will go to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

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