Self-Driving Cars Coming to Pittsburgh

Pressing ignition of futuristic car

Ready or not, the future is here: Self-driving cars have made it to the 'Burgh.

Residents of the Steel City may have already seen the test car from Uber's Advanced Technologies Center cruising around the Golden Triangle—all in an effort to collect mapping data and test the self-driving technology. Most recently, the company said it will soon begin transporting passengers in Pittsbugh with its driver-less cars. Driverless cars (complete with an escort who can take over if need be) will be sent randomly to those who use the app to call for a ride, which will be free.

To accomplish this, the car—a hybrid Ford Focus— is outfitted with sensors and high-resolution cameras.

But Uber isn’t alone: Ford, Volvo and Google have also launched initiatives dealing with self-driving car technology.

What's the big-picture goal of self-driving cars and autonomous technology? It's to help eliminate two of the leading causes of vehicle crashes in the United States—human error and distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2014 there were 6.1 million vehicle crashes in the United States that resulted in 2.3 million injuries and more than 32,600 deaths—with 94 percent of those caused by human error., the official U.S. government website devoted to distracted driving awareness, reports that 3,179 people were killed, and another 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

The History Self-Driving Cars

The NHTSA defines self-driving vehicles as those that do not need the direct input of a driver to control functions such as steering, braking and accelerating.

Google is considered a pioneer of driverless technology, having developed its first robotic vehicle in 2005. Since then, the company has been test driving a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

These driverless vehicles have sensors and software designed to detect pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road obstacles so they can safety travel around them. According to the company, its fleet of self-driving cars has navigated more than a million miles without an accident.

A recent study predicted that self-driving cars will hit the market by the year 2019, and The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimates that a whopping 75 percent of vehicles in the world will be self-driving by the year 2040. But the NHTSA has its concerns.

Among those concerns:

  • Who is liable for damages if someone is injured in a vehicle crash involving a self-driving car?
  • Will a driver need to constantly monitor traffic and road conditions while riding in self-driving vehicles?
  • Will owners of self-driving cars need driver's licenses?

The NHTSA has issued recommendations to states on how to regulate self-driving vehicles, but so far, only 18 have laws permitting the testing of driverless cars.

If a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers get its way, the Keystone State will soon be joining them.

PA Senate Bill Would Greenlight Testing of Self-Driving Cars

The same day last month that Uber announced its plans to test its driverless technology in Pittsburgh, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 1268—legislation that would allow testing of autonomous vehicles on the state's transportation system.

If approved, Senate Bill 1268 would require those who wish to test self-driving car technology in Pennsylvania to, among other things:

  • Report all crashes—even minor fender benders
  • Carry $5 million in insurance in addition to standard automobile insurance coverage
  • Obtain approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, a Republican serving part of Allegheny County, was also introduced as a way to support the City of Pittsburgh's bid to the U.S. Department of Transportation to be selected for its Smart City Challenge.

Pittsburgh is one of seven finalists for a $50 million grant through the department to integrate "innovative technologies" such as self-driving cars into the transportation system.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, city leaders will be making their final pitch for the grant today, Thursday, June 9.

Self-Driving Cars and Safety, Insurance Concerns

While self-driving car technology is being developed to help make roads safer, statistically, that might not currently be the case.

According to a recent University of Michigan Transportation Institute study, self-driving cars are involved in crashes at five times the rate of traditional vehicles—even though the vehicles may not necessarily have been at fault in those accidents.

The study, however, acknowledges that the statistics were taken from a relatively small sample size and may not accurately reflect the actual safety of self-driving cars. There are also concerns over how the prevalence of self-driving cars will affect car insurance and liability issues.

Edgar Snyder & Associates understands how devastating vehicle crashes—and the injuries they cause—can be, and we look forward to learning more about self-driving cars and how Pennsylvania plans to regulate them to ensure the safety of all motorists traveling our roadways.

"Driverless car laws considered as Uber tests technology in Pittsburgh" on May 19, 2016

NHTSA website
"Self-Driving Cars and Insurance," Insurance Information Institute

SB 1268 Co-Sponsorship Memo
SB 1268

Google Self-Driving Car Project website
"Self-Driving Cars," National Association of Insurance Commissioners (updated April 25, 2016)