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New Law Legalizes Robotic Deliveries in Pennsylvania

 

iStock.com/John M. Chase

By Robert C. Jefferson, Esq.

Pennsylvania has a new law on the books that legalizes the use of Personal Delivery Devices, but municipalities are limited in the ways they can regulate such devices.

Act No. 106 of 2020 (“Act 106”), in part, added the definition of a Personal Delivery Device (“PDD”) to the Commonwealth’s Motor Vehicle Code. A PDD is defined as a ground delivery device that:

  1. is manufactured for transporting cargo or goods;
  2. is operated by a driving system that allows remote or autonomous operation, or both; and
  3. weighs 500 pounds or less without cargo or goods.
Robert Jefferson IV

Robert C. Jefferson, IV

As amended, the Motor Vehicle Code will prohibit a person from operating a PDD on a roadway, or shoulder or berm of a roadway, or in a pedestrian area unless: (1) the person holds a PDD authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or is a PDD operator; and (2) the PDD is operated in accordance with other provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code.

Pursuant to Act 106, municipalities, by ordinance or resolution, may do only the following:

  1. Permit the use of a personal delivery device on a roadway, or shoulder or berm of a roadway, under the jurisdiction of the municipality where the posted speed limit is greater than 25 miles per hour but not greater than 35 miles per hour.
  2. Prohibit the use of a personal delivery device on any roadway, or shoulder or berm of a roadway, or pedestrian area under the jurisdiction of the municipality where the municipality, after consultation with the authorized entity, determines that the operation of the personal delivery device would constitute a hazard.

Act 106 specifically prohibits a municipality from regulating the operation of a PDD operated in a pedestrian area, roadway, or shoulder or berm of a roadway, under the jurisdiction of the municipality, except as otherwise provided.

Act 106 specifically provides that municipalities shall have no duty to make streets, highways, or real estate safe for use by personal delivery devices. Additionally, municipalities shall be immune from suit by authorized entities and owners of cargo and other items carried on or within a PDD for property damages.

The law regarding personal delivery devices will be effective February 1, 2021.

Conclusion:
The only action a municipality may take regarding a PDD is contained in §8517(a) of the Motor Vehicle Code. While §8517(b) of the Motor Vehicle Code places a limit on the authority of a municipality regarding the regulation of a PDD, the scope of this limit remains unanalyzed by the courts as this is a brand new law.

Read more on Senate Bill 1199

Robert C. Jefferson, IV is an associate attorney at Gawthrop Greenwood, PC who focuses his practice on municipal government law, as well as land use, land development and zoning. His career in public service, along with experience navigating the adversarial court system, have proven beneficial to both public and private sector clients as they face testimony and cross examination before zoning hearing boards, planning commissions and other municipal authorities. Jefferson can be reached at rjefferson@gawthrop.com or 610-696-8225.

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