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Last week, the House passed a bill that would establish the first national law governing self-driving cars in the United States. It would also allow thousands of new autonomous cars to be tested on public roads every year. This week the Senate held a hearing to see if autonomous trucks should get the same treatment.

While certain states already have regulations in place, since autonomous vehicles are still a relatively new concept, most states do not. Even those who have them often have huge gaps in regulations where there are legal gray areas. Some companies, including and especially companies like Uber, have been accused of deliberately operating in those gray areas in order to gain a competitive edge in developing new technologies.


The House bill would give the whole country a universal guideline for developing and testing autonomous vehicles, but it deliberately excludes vehicles over 10,000 pounds.

Now that the bill has passed to the Senate for deliberation, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has held a hearing to see if they should expand the bill to large trucks as well. Doing so could greatly increase the ease with which companies would be able to test vehicles – and the number of vehicles that can be tested at once. The House version would increase the number of autonomous cars allowed on the road by 100,000 per year within three years.

Senator John Thune (R-SD), the chairman of the subcommittee, opened the hearing with a resounding endorsement for autonomous trucks. He touched on the two things that were brought up most frequently in the hearing: Safety and economic growth.

“Trucks share our roads, deliver our goods, and keep our economy moving,” Thune said in his opening statement. “Including trucks in the conversation about automated vehicles is important as we seek to improve safety; it also puts our economy on a level playing field as other countries around the world deploy automated freight trucks.”

Others to testify in favor of adding autonomous trucks to the bill were ATA president Chris Spear, National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah Hersman, and Navistar International CEO Troy Clarke.

Clarke noted the importance of having one “predictable legislative and regulatory environment” in which Navistar and other manufacturers can develop and test their technology instead of dealing with a patchwork of rules that vary from state to state.

Spear meanwhile had a lengthy statement which you can read here ( http://www.trucking.org/ATA Docs/News and Information/docs/Chris Spear AV Testimony Sept 13 2017.pdf ), where he echoed the need for cohesive nationwide regulation. He went on to claim that autonomous vehicles would help solve the driver shortage, but also that “ATA believes that the driver will retain an important role in trucking, even with automated trucks.” In his statement, Spear listed the duties that truckers would still need to perform:

“In addition to monitoring the automated driving systems and manually driving in the cityscape and at loading docks, drivers will retain their current responsibilities for securing the cargo,” says Spear’s statement. “Particularly hazardous cargo, as well as for customer interaction with the shipper and receiver.”

But not everyone was so enthusiastic. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) cautioned that not enough is yet known about autonomous trucks to clear thousands of them for testing on public roads. He also challenged the claim from others that autonomous trucks would automatically make the roads safer, saying “we cannot allow such premature conclusions to stand in this Committee’s way of talking specifics – and getting the answers, we need to have a more complete understanding of the safety, workforce, and policy implications of highly automated trucks.”

Similarly cautious about autonomous trucks’ inclusion in the bill was General Secretary Treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Ken Hall. Hall stated what most professional drivers would consider obvious, that cars and large trucks are “fundamentally different.” While he did agree that having some sort of regulation in place governing autonomous trucks was prudent, “taking a cookie cutter approach in dealing with those issues and applying it to heavy vehicles is reckless.”

Most importantly for Hall though is “the largest issue of them all, the potential impact on the livelihoods and wages of millions [of truckers].”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/09/06/senate-to-consider-legislation-self-driving-trucks/
 

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Standing in the way of progress by claiming job loss is premature. All technology in the past has increased employment not decreased it.

My cousin is a welder by trade. His job was displaced by a welding robot. Now he maintains the robot. A much healthier profession.
 
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