The Robots are Coming!
On November 1, 2020 the General Assembly brought Pennsylvania a step closer to a future of automated delivery robots. Act 106 of 2020 addresses “personal delivery devices” (“PDDs”)—Ground delivery devices that transport cargo or goods and are operated by a remote or autonomous driving system. 75 P.C.S. § 102. The Act imposes requirements for the physical characteristics of PDDs, as well as for licensing and operation. With the exception of municipalities’ limited power to regulate PDDs, discussed below, PDDs are governed exclusively by Act 106. 75 P.C.S. § 8522. Act 2020 will become effective on January 2, 2021.
Who Will Control the Robots?
PennDOT will authorize persons or entities to operate PDDs (“PDD Operators”) upon completion of an application and demonstration of an ability to comply with the provisions of Act 106. PennDOT will list authorized PDD Operators on its website, 75 P.C.S. § 8513(B)(3)(I).
What Will the Robots Look Like?
PDDs may be up to 32 inches wide, 42 inches long, or 72 inches tall, or roughly the size of a large shower stall. They may weigh up to 500 pounds without cargo. 75 P.C.S. § 102. PDDs also must be equipped with brakes, white headlights, and blinking red taillights. A PDD must display the identity of the PDD Operator, a unique identification number assigned to the PDD and the telephone number of the PDD Operator. 75 P.C.S. § 8518.
When Are the Robots Coming?
PDD Operators who intend to operate PDDs within a municipality must notify the governing body of the municipality at least thirty (30) days prior to commencing operation. 75 P.C.S. § 8517(D). In addition, a PDD Operator’s application must list the municipalities, roadways, and pedestrian areas in which the operator intends to operate, as well as information about how a person may stop or disable the PDD. 75 P.C.S. § 8514(B)(2). Although PennDOT is not obligated to automatically share this information, it is subject to right-to-know requests. 75 P.C.S. § 8514(E)(1). A person may also request information about the manufacturer or model of the applicant’s PDDs, proof of the applicant’s insurance, and the list of identification numbers for the PDDs the applicant intends to operate. 75 P.C.S. § 8514(E)(1).
PDD operation will occur in two phases:
- Phase 1: PDDs are controlled remotely by an operator who is within thirty (30) feet and within sight of the PDD.
- Phase 2: PDDs are controlled and monitored remotely by the PDD Operator.
Generally, PDD Operators will be able to operate only in Phase 1 for the first 90 to 180 days after receiving authorization from PennDOT*. Once the PDD Operator has demonstrated safe operation of its PDDs under Phase 1 and that it can safely operate under Phase 2, PennDOT will authorize Phase 2 operation. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(A)(2). Phase 2 authorization may be revoked if PennDOT determines that this is necessary to ensure public safety. 75 P.C.S. § 8513(B)(3).
* If the PDD Operator certifies safe PDD operation in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, the Phase 1 period may be shortened. 75 P.C.S. § 8516. It is also possible for the Phase 1 period to be shortened or extended upon agreement between the PDD Operator and PennDOT, however the Act does not specify conditions under which such agreement may be made. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(A)(1)(II).
What Can the Robots Do?
PDDs are generally restricted to roadways where the speed limit is no greater than 25 miles per hour, although PennDOT may allow use of PDDs along PennDOT roadways having speed limits of up to 35 mph. 75 P.C.S. §§ 8516(12), (13). PennDOT may prohibit use of PDDs on any PennDOT roadway if it determines that the operation of the PDD would constitute a hazard. 75 P.C.S. § 8513(B)(2).
In addition, PDDs must:
- Use pedestrian areas, sidewalks or shoulders where available and practicable and operate as near as practicable to the outside edge of the roadway where they are not. 75 P.C.S §§ 3544, 8516(C)(2), (4), (6).
- Yield the right of way or safely navigate around pedestrians and cyclists in a pedestrian area. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(C)(8).
- Travel in the same direction as vehicular traffic when operating on a roadway, shoulder, or berm. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(C)(9).
- Obey the speed limit and traffic and pedestrian-control systems. 75 P.C.S. §§ 3541, 8516(C)(11).
- Travel no more than 25 mph along roadways or 12 mph in pedestrian areas. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(D).
- Generally adhere to regulations pertaining to pedestrians. 75 P.C.S. §§ 102, 3542, 3543, 8522(B).
- Yield the right of way to emergency vehicles. 75 P.C.S. § 3538.
- Yield the right of way to vehicles if crossing a street other than at a crosswalk. 75 P.C.S. § 3542.
- Not make a left turn across lanes of traffic until PennDOT establishes polices or guidelines for such action. 75 P.C.S. § 8516(C)(3).
- Cease or restrict operation of PDDs if there is a weather emergency of other hazardous event identified by PennDOT or a municipality. 75 P.C.S. § 8514(5).
May Municipalities Control the Robots?
Municipalities have limited power to regulate PDDs. They may do only the following, by ordinance or resolution:
- Permit the use of PDDs on roadways, shoulders, or berms where the speed limit is between 25 and 35 miles per hour. 75 P.C.S. § 8517(A)(1).
- Prohibit the use of PDDs on any municipal roadway where the municipality determines, after consultation with the PDD-operating entity, that the operation of PDDs would constitute a hazard. 75 P.C.S. § 8517(A)(2).
Otherwise, municipalities may not regulate the operation of PDDs operated in pedestrian areas, roadways, shoulders, or berms. 75 P.C.S. § 8517(B). Nor may they authorize PDDs to operate in a manner that conflicts with the operation requirements provided by Act 106. 75 P.C.S. § 8517. Municipalities may, however, enforce laws, rules, or regulations as they relate to PDDs. 75 P.C.S. § 8517(C)(1).
What if the Robots Go Awry?
All PDDs will be required to display the PDD Operator’s phone number, and persons will be able to call the displayed number to report violations of Act 106 or an accident or insurance claim. 75 P.C.S. § 8518(C). In addition, if a PDD is involved in any accident that results in bodily injury, death, or property damage, the PDD Operator will be required to report the accident to PennDOT and the law enforcement agency of a municipality where it occurred. 75 P.C.S. § 8513(B)(4). Municipalities have no duty to make streets, highways, or real estate safe for PDDs, and they are immune from liability for property damage to cargo carried in a PDD. 75 P.C.S. § 8519.
A person who knowingly operates a PDD without PennDOT authorization shall be guilty of a summary offense and be sentenced to a fine of not less than $1,000. 75 P.C.S. § 8521(C). One who operates a PDD in violation of the other provisions of Act 106 shall be guilty of a summary offense and sentenced to pay a summary fine of $500.
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