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Union gets House to remove trucks from autonomous vehicle bill

August 17, 2017
By: Jason Rittenberg

A House bill that would allow manufacturers to sell up to 100,000 self-driving cars each and bar states from restricting their operation passed both its subcommittee and the Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously last month. Concerned about potential job loss, unions representing truck drivers successfully lobbied the House to exempt commercial trucks from the “highly automated vehicle” definition the law affects for the time being.

The bill enables automakers to produce and deploy self-driving cars by allowing exemptions from federal safety standards for vehicles, although the vehicles must still achieve a comparable overall level of safety. Deployment of the autonomous vehicles would be scaled nationwide from 25,000 in year one, to 50,000 in year two and 100,000 for each of years three and four. There are currently four types of safety exemptions in the law, and this bill would add a fifth for autonomous vehicles.[1]

Between the bill’s advancement by the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection and passage by the full committee, the definition of autonomous vehicles was altered to exclude commercial trucks. The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Division president, Larry Willis, told Bloomberg he is concerned about “massive job dislocation” that could occur from self-driving vehicles. Goldman Sachs Economics Research released a report earlier this year projecting that autonomous vehicles could eliminate 25,000 driving jobs per year, many of which would be borne by America’s four million truck drivers.

The bill’s ban on states’ ability to pass their own standards for self-driving cars seems likely to cause tension between the federal and state governments as the legislation moves forward in the House and seeks introduction in the Senate. Twenty-three states already have legislation or executive orders related to the vehicles, several of which specifically restrict operations to target pilot areas, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. The division of responsibilities for vehicle safety leaves manufacturing standards to the federal government and operations to the states — lines that are clearly blurred when the vehicle is the operator.

[1] Technically, the bill allows the Secretary to use any of the five exemptions to allow autonomous vehicles so long as the low emissions exemption is not used for more than 2,500 vehicles in any one year.


policy, auto