Autonomous vehicle law puts Pa. in driver’s seat of opportunity, innovation

By Luke Bernstein

Pennsylvania’s Legislature recently put the commonwealth in the driver’s seat of innovation and economic opportunity by sending a bill to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk that paves the way for autonomous vehicle development.

In the final days of the 2021-22 session, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry worked with state legislators on both sides of the aisle, the governor’s office and stakeholders, including those in the technology and insurance sectors, to finalize and advance legislation, House Bill 2398, introduced by state Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion. This important legislation became law last week when Wolf signed the bill, providing a regulatory framework for the testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology.

Over the past few decades, Pennsylvania has set the stage for tech investment and innovation, and autonomous vehicle technology has quickly become a trailblazing industry. This technology, which could largely only be conceptualized a decade ago, is now being deployed on roadways across America. Given the importance of logistics to Pennsylvania’s economy, the state cannot afford to miss out on further investment. Autonomous vehicles’ cutting-edge safety standards, emissions reductions, potential to mitigate traffic congestion and opportunity for significant cost savings for fleets are making them more widespread.

Not only are these vehicles here to stay, but they are also expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the years to come. According to a Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce report, this sector is expected to grow into a more than $1 trillion global market by 2026 — and the Pittsburgh region alone is estimated to capture 5,000 jobs and 1% of the global market growth, with a $10 billion impact.

While the future looks bright, the industry has also faced challenges, including supply chain disruptions, high input-costs and, until recently, an uncertain regulatory environment.

The passage of HB 2398 aims to change that. The law sets guidelines for automated vehicle production, giving companies the confidence to proceed with their operations and taking a giant step toward cementing Pennsylvania as a prime location to design, build and export automated vehicles across the nation and around the world.  Pennsylvania is now in line with more than a dozen other states that had already legislated a pathway for automated vehicle production.

This new law, coupled with other recent legislative successes supported by the Pennsylvania Chamber, positions Pennsylvania for further technological investment and innovation. In July, Pennsylvania enacted a monumental, bipartisan tax reform package that reduces our corporate net income tax from 9.99%, the second highest rate in the nation, to 4.99% by 2031, which would be the eighth lowest rate in the nation.

A safe, modern and efficient transportation sector is essential to fueling Pennsylvania’s ongoing economic success. Autonomous vehicle technology is a major piece of the commonwealth’s transportation future — and an industry that can help to turn the tide of stagnation. A recent report from the Brookings Institution warned that while Pennsylvania’s tech and innovation industry is booming, the state lags in job creation due in large part to unaccommodating public policy. Enacting pro-growth legislation like HB 2398 will help bring our policies in line with where industry is headed, support innovation and move our economy forward.

This is transformational public policy, leveraging advances in emerging technologies like cloud computing and robotics to innovate alongside our state’s historic strengths in legacy industries like logistics and automotive components. A legislative achievement of this scale could only be accomplished by working together. Thanks to the leadership of Oberlander, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc, all the legislators from both parties who supported the bill, and Wolf, as well as our industry partners, including Erie Insurance and tech startups Aurora Innovation and Locomotion, we were able to build consensus and advance this important initiative.

Together, we recognize the long-term gains of pursuing this future-focused policy — not just because it will keep our roadways safer, but because it will make our economy stronger. That’s a winning combination for every Pennsylvanian.

Luke Bernstein is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

This article was originally published as an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.