Pennsylvania Holds its 1st Automated Vehicle Summit

Pennsylvania is ramping up its continuing effort to become the “proving ground” for self-driving vehicles.  Earlier this month, Pennsylvania held its first Automated Vehicle Summit.  The event was held September 11-12 in State College.

Advocates of automated vehicles are hoping to make the roads safer by removing the human error element that leads to so many car accidents.  However, the process of proving to the world that these cars will indeed make the roadways safer is still in the works.  The most interesting question is whether there is a need to show that self-driving cars are as close to 100% safe as possible or whether it just needs to be shown that they are simply safer than human controlled vehicles.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards was the keynote speaker at the Summit.  Other officials from PennDOT, state police, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state departments of Community & Economic Development and Labor & Industry were among those that also participated in the summit.

Richards remarked that Automated Vehicles offer opportunities for improving safety while also having a positive effect on the economy. That includes reducing traffic deaths.  “With 94 percent of those fatalities being attributed to human distraction, we know that AV and connected vehicle technology is going to allow us to reduce that number in a big way, many think to zero,” Richards said.

Among the summit goers was Stan Caldwell, executive director of Traffic21 Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (a research institute looking to address the problems facing the transportation system of the Pittsburgh region and the nation). He said the transformation to automated vehicles is already underway.  “I always say we’re going to look back one day and say ‘When did we quit driving?’ and not really know,” Caldwell said.

In addition to the presenters, there were demonstrations at Penn State’s Thomas D. Larson Test Track to show HAV technology as it exists today.

According to PennDOT, the goals of the summit were: 1) to inform Pennsylvania’s citizens and decision-makers about the opportunities and issues automated transportation will present, and to generate feedback to shape PennDOT’s AV Strategic Plan; and 2) to establish an ongoing citizen-driven community of interest to actively engage in shaping the testing, development and deployment of AV technology to ensure it promotes stronger communities, shared economic opportunity and improved quality of life.

To learn more about autonomous vehicle testing in Pennsylvania, visit

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