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PennDOT cancels meeting on new testing guidelines with self-driving car companies

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, May 29, 2018, 1:12 p.m.
Noah Zych, Head of System Safety at Uber ATG, speaks to members of the media on the advancements made in the first year of the self-drivnig cars in Pittsburgh, at their offices in the Strip District on Sept. 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Noah Zych, Head of System Safety at Uber ATG, speaks to members of the media on the advancements made in the first year of the self-drivnig cars in Pittsburgh, at their offices in the Strip District on Sept. 20, 2017.

PennDOT has canceled a meeting this week to discuss its new guidelines for testing self-driving cars with autonomous vehicle companies.

The meeting between Secretary Leslie Richards and representatives from more than a dozen companies involved in autonomous vehicles was scheduled for Thursday in Pittsburgh.

PennDOT and Richards will now meet with companies testing self-driving cars in Pennsylvania individually, Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman for PennDOT, told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday.

Canceling the meeting throws a wrench in Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's plans to ask for new safety guidelines at the meeting. Peduto wants the city to have a say in the state's upcoming guidelines and regulations on self-driving cars.

The mayor had planned to ask representatives from the autonomous vehicle industry to agree to a 25-mph speed limit on all self-driving car testing in the city.

“Pittsburgh should have a very strong voice in whatever Pennsylvania should decide to do,” Peduto told reporters Tuesday. “These are our streets. They belong to the people of the city of Pittsburgh and the people of the city of Pittsburgh should be able to have certain criteria that shows them that safety is being taken first.”

Peduto said he will ask that an impartial panel of experts, not government officials, certify that Uber has fixed whatever problems it has in its software or hardware that led to the fatal crash in Tempe, Ariz. Uber has hired a former chief of the National Transportation Safety Board to lead a thorough, internal safety review.

Peduto still plans to meet with Richards to discuss autonomous vehicle testing.

The city has no authority to regulate vehicles on its streets. Only the state can.

Richards had wanted to meet with companies to outline the agency's temporary, voluntary guidelines for autonomous car testing in the state and hear feedback.

PennDOT cannot impose mandatory restrictions on testing until the state legislature grants that authority.

Richards announced the temporary guidelines at the beginning of April at the Pennsylvania Automated Vehicle Summit in Pittsburgh. The guidelines include sharing information with the state about who is behind the wheel of test vehicles, which cars are involved and where and when and how they will be tested. They do not set a speed limit on cars testing self-driving technology.

Peduto publicly mentioned his wish for a 25-mph speed limit after news leaked that Uber planned to restart testing its fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh next month. Uber has said it is willing to discuss the new rules.

Peduto said Tuesday his speed limit and other measures aren't only for Uber but for the entire self-driving industry growing in Pittsburgh. The chances of a pedestrian being killed by a car greatly increase as the car's speed increases, according to data analyzed by ProPublica. The average adult has a 12 percent chance of being killed by a car traveling 25 mph. The chance increases to 31 percent at 35 mph, 60 percent at 45 mph and 86 percent at 55 mph.

“We want to see that industry succeed, but the question becomes at what cost,” Peduto said. “So when you're looking at safety, and you know that the ability of reducing a speed down to 25 has a significant reduction in the amount of fatalities that occur in this country and around the world, is it too much to ask for?”

Uber, Argo AI, Aurora Innovation, Aptiv and Carnegie Mellon University have all tested self-driving cars on Pittsburgh's streets.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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