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Autonomous Vehicle Policy — Public Comment Overview

How many companies are currently testing HAVs in PA? Where, and how many vehicles?

Highly Automated Vehicle (HAV) testing is allowable under current state law presuming that a licensed driver is behind the wheel, controlling the operation of the vehicle and able to exercise actual physical control of a vehicle as necessary. There are no current laws, regulations, or policies in effect that require HAV Testers to report HAV testing activities to PennDOT, so the number of testing companies, vehicles, and locations is not known. One of the goals of the task force was to develop policies that will allow PennDOT to have oversight through an application and permitting process. Through the enactment of legislation and implementation of policies, PennDOT will know who is testing, where the testing is occurring, and what cars are being tested.

 

Have there been any accidents involving the testing vehicles?

Under current Pennsylvania law, a reportable accident is one that involves injury to or death of a person or where there is damage to any vehicle to the point that it cannot be driven and requires towing. Crash reporting does not currently require identification of the vehicle as an HAV, so PennDOT does not currently maintain crash records specific to HAVs. Additionally, since minor fender-benders are not defined as reportable crashes, PennDOT would not know under current law if a minor incident occurred involving an HAV.

 

If an HAV hits my vehicle, who is liable?

When the automated driving system (ADS) is not engaged, then the licensed driver operating the vehicle will presumably be subject to all applicable "rules of the road" and the Commonwealth's laws regarding liability as if they were driving a non‐HAV. Determining who is responsible for an accident with an ADS operated HAV is not yet clear, but commentators suspect that it will involve application of traditional state tort and product liability laws, in addition to any new laws or regulations enacted or adopted to address HAV-related liability.

 

What if the ONLY choices for the vehicle are to hit an object that is instantaneously, without warning, in front of it (such as a person) OR collide with a vehicle in the opposing lane? How will this decision be made and what will it be?

The decision built into the vehicle's operating system will be to bring it to a state of minimal risk as swiftly as possible. Whether it should actually be programmed to make a decision between two equally bad options is probably one best left not to transportation or computer engineers, but to society as a whole, informed by a discussion of appropriate ethics. However puzzling this problem is, it may well be one more commonly taken up in graduate philosophy seminars than on the road. The real-world promise is that these dilemmas will be confronted far less frequently in a HAV that is programmed to be operating safely and alertly in the first place, than the frequency with which these situations arise today involving human drivers.

 

Why test on public roads instead of on tracks or closed courses?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is recommending that "test approaches should include a combination of simulation, test track, and on-road testing." PennDOT agrees and none of our comments in the policy or at the webinar should be taken to minimize the use or importance of simulations or test track testing.

 

Are taxpayer dollars funding HAV testing?

Current autonomous vehicle policies do not allocate any tax payer money to autonomous car manufacturers, testers, or other industry participants.

 

Why does the policy recommendation not include safety standards specific to the vehicles?

Questions regarding vehicle safety standards are generally in the domain of federal regulators. PennDOT fully supports NHTSA's 15-point safety assessment for HAV testing. In fact, PennDOT has recommended to NHTSA that submission of the safety assessment be a requirement, not an option, for HAV Testers. That assessment would contain the details of prior testing and research, along with results of that testing showing how testers support their current operational design domain for on-road testing. We suspect that any legislative authorization for testing will require that HAV testers comply with all federal laws, regulations, and guidance, which would include the NHTSA Safety Assessment. That assessment includes system safety, vehicle cybersecurity, definition of the operation design domain, explanation of the system's object and event detection and response functions, and validation methods.

 

Does an update to the software installed on an ADS constitute a "material change" that requires a new testing license?

It would depend on the nature of the software update itself. We anticipate that the HAV tester will be following the federal NHTSA guidelines that contemplate that a software or hardware update that materially changes "the way in which the vehicle complies (or take it out of compliance) with any of the 15 elements of the Guidance (e.g., vehicle's ODD, OEDR capability, or fall back approach), [NHTSA] would deem the update to be one that would necessitate" a revised safety assessment summarizing the change. Likewise, the draft policy would require the HAV tester to "notify the Department when the HAV is capable of operating in new conditions, if there are material changes in the testing program, or if the HAV Tester otherwise modifies the ODD. The notification will be in writing and shall be accompanied by explanation of the new conditions or material modifications." The department reserves the right to request a demonstration of the revised capabilities prior to approval.

 

Additional Public Comments submitted to the Task Force for Consideration

  • Will autonomous vehicles put people out of work?
  • Why doesn't the task force include a representative from the cycling community?
  • Any information relating to the development of HAV technology should be readily available to the public.