CALIFORNIA – A transportation policy expert pointed Monday to the first fatal collision involving a self-driving car hitting a pedestrian as he discussed the challenges public officials face in planning for and regulating in rapidly developing areas of transportation technology.
“The next frontier in a lot of this technology is really looking at continuing this connected and automated vehicle technology research,” said Stan Caldwell, adjunct associate professor of transportation and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “Because right now, as we saw from the fatality in Tempe, (Ariz.,) there’s still a lot of technological challenges. We’ve got to make sure that this is being deployed safely.”
Caldwell was one of the speakers during a workshop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional planning agency covering 10 counties in the Pittsburgh region, held Monday at California University of Pennsylvania and titled “Forces of Change and the Future of Our Region.”
Caldwell is executive director of CMU’s Traffic21, a research institute whose “goal is to design, test, deploy and evaluate information and communications technology based solutions to address the problems facing the transportation system of the Pittsburgh region and the nation,” according to its website.
Caldwell’s remarks touched on a range of advances in transportation technology, economic development and policy.
He alluded more than once to the recent fatal accident involving Uber.
The company suspended testing of its autonomous vehicles after the March 18 nighttime accident during which one of its self-driving test vehicles struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing a street.
Uber began testing self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh in 2016. Other companies testing autonomous vehicle technology in Pennsylvania are CMU, Argo AI and Aptiv, formerly Delphi.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Tempe police are investigating the accident.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have moved slowly on imposing comprehensive regulations on operators of self-driving cars.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Kirkpatrick said the “only requirement pertaining to HAVs (highly automated vehicles) is that a licensed driver be behind the wheel.”
He said a pending bill introduced in the state Senate would “give PennDOT authority to set policies to oversee HAV testing and ensure safety is a top priority.”
Following his speech, Caldwell said it “can be difficult for government to try to get ahead of the technology and industry on this.”
“That’s the challenge for governments right now, is how do you enable the innovation but ensure safety?”
SPC Chairman Larry Maggi, who is also a Washington County commissioner, said the multicounty commission will help “to implement, regulate and develop processes to implement this type of technology” as it develops at “lightning speed.”
“That is cutting-edge technology, and it’s coming sooner rather than later,” Maggi said.