Trucking Transportation

House hearing explores concerns related to driverless trucks

Photo: House Highways and Transit Subcommittee

Washington — A centralized framework that emphasizes safety and lets innovation “thrive” is crucial for the federal regulation of autonomous trucks, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear says.

Speaking during a Sept. 13 hearing before the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, Spear called on Congress to establish firm federal oversight to avoid a “patchwork” of state and local regulations that could “stifle the innovation” of automation “before it even has a chance to prove its worth.”

In Spear’s view, that includes “knee-jerk reactions” such as A.B. 316 – a proposed AV law in California that would have prohibited autonomous trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds from operating on state roadways without a person on board. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed the bill on Sept. 22.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), who chairs the subcommittee, said a potential federal framework “should not be overly prescriptive, but instead create guardrails for the industry to grow with safety at the forefront.” He cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates showing that 94% of serious crashes can be attributed to driver-related factors such as speeding, fatigue, impairment and distraction.

Crawford said autonomous trucks can increase safety “by anticipating road dangers and mitigating or removing human error from the chain of events that lead to a crash.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the subcommittee’s ranking member, cautioned that the technology’s potential benefits “must be carefully weighed against risks, especially when public roads are being used as testing grounds for new technologies.”

Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL), a former truck driver, said that although he isn’t opposed to autonomous trucking, he still has concerns related to its potential impact on issues such as cybersecurity and a perceived driver shortage.

“We can’t guarantee what hackers might be able to get into and put autonomous trucks at risk to our people,” Bost said. “I think we can put a lot of safety in there, but we’ve got to be very, very, very careful.”

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