PA Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr.

Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee Chair Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Johnstown

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania lawmakers and officials gathered at Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday to unveil legislation to authorize the testing and commercial deployment of automated vehicles.

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Johnstown, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, discussed how the Pittsburgh region’s continued leadership in antonymous vehicle technology – with cutting edge programs at Carnegie Mellon University and top companies Argo AI, Aurora and others – depends on regulatory changes to thrive, and how leaders from government, industry and education came together to help him craft Senate Bill 965.

The bipartisan bill modifies Pennsylvania laws to allow for vehicles to operate without a seated driver and permits testing and commercial deployment through Level 5, or fully automated. It addresses insurance liability and local governance, as well as PennDOT’s role, Langerholc said.

Langerholc cited a nationwide shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, supply chain issues, the industry’s $10 billion economic impact and thousands of jobs as important reasons to ensure Pennsylvania remains at the forefront of the industry.

“Today, we send a message … to the nation and the world the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be a leader in this emerging industry,” he said. “Let this unveiling toll the bell that bipartisanship is not dead.”

Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian focused on ensuring SB 965 made safety a top priority and said the framework would help expand from the eight companies currently authorized to test autonomous vehicles in 56 counties.

“We’ve already seen some economic benefits from this industry,” she said, citing 6,300 jobs and 8,600 indirect jobs. “There’s added economic benefit that will be created and produced for many years.”

“To make progress … we need legislative and policy changes to allow vehicle only testing,” she said. “This would create a pathway to the deployment of these vehicles.”

Sen. Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, said 39 other states also are working to leverage the autonomous vehicle industry, and he also stressed what the industry means for jobs in the region.

“One of the things we need to recognize is we’re not alone in the AV space,” he said.

While the bill is “a legal framework to allow us to thrive in this space,” Costa said, the effort “really is about growing the jobs and growing the employment chain.”

“Workforce is going to be an important part,” he said. “That conversation needs to be part of this, as well.”

Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Matt Smith also attended Wednesday's event, where he applauded the bill for supporting an industry that he said is central to the economic future of the region and state, citing board members among industry leaders.

“We feel it’s important to put the full-throated support of the … business community behind this,” he said. “This legislation will go a long way to making us more competitive.”

SB 965 was referred to Langerholc’s Transportation Committee when it was introduced Wednesday.