Automated Vehicles - Did You Know? Taskforce

A research group from Carnegie Mellon University has been given the green light to test self-driving cars on Lancaster County roads.

“Heads up Lancaster County drivers! PennDOT has notified us Automated Vehicle testing may occur here,” county Commissioner Josh Parsons tweeted Wednesday morning.

In a letter sent this week to “transportation stakeholders,” including the Lancaster County Commissioners, state transportation Secretary Leslie Richards said PennDOT has approved the research group’s application to test the vehicles, and that testing may occur in 25 counties, including Lancaster.

The move greatly expands the presence of automated testing in Pennsylvania. Previously, testing was permitted only in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties, according to a list on PennDOT’s website as of Nov. 9.

James Cowhey, executive director of the county planning commission, said he expects local officials to receive further notification before any actual testing begins.

In the meantime, “we’re going to keep an eye on it” and reach out to PennDOT to learn more about what could be in store, he said.

According to PennDOT's guidelines for automated vehicles published in July, the vehicles must have a driver behind the wheel who can take control if necessary.

Testers have to file applications with PennDOT before hitting the roads, according to the guidelines, and they have to report data semi-annually, including information on where vehicles have traveled.

Testers are asked to notify PennDOT, within six hours, of any crashes that result in the damage of property, serious injury or death.

PennDOT started an automated vehicle task force in June 2016 to prepare for the use of driverless cars.

Read PennDOT's FAQs on automated vehicles.

Some Lancaster County residents balked at the news that state transportation officials wanted Pennsylvania to be a testing ground, according to a January 2017 LNP report.

One concern was how the cars would navigate horse and buggy traffic. At that time a PennDOT spokeswoman said autonomous vehicles can detect slow-moving objects on the road and shoulder such as buggies.

PennDOT did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.