Should Driverless Trucks be Included in Recent Self-Driving Bill?

Earlier this month, the House passed the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act (SELF DRIVE Act) which provided rules for “highly automated vehicles.” 1The rule, however, pertained to passenger vehicles but did not include commercial trucks.  

One week later, stakeholders confronted the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation regarding whether or not to acknowledge commercial vehicles in the act as well.  Below are some issues that were addressed:

The Impact on Current Drivers

One of the issues surrounding self-driving trucks is the concern over thousands of drivers potentially being left without a job if automated vehicles take over.  However, there were those who disagreed with this assumption, with American Trucking Associations’ president Chris Spear saying that IF it were to happen, it’s “too far into the future to see,” comparing these trucks to airplanes that fly in autopilot mode but still require an airline pilot, perhaps even attracting more drivers to the field. 2

The Colorado State Patrol, Navistar, National Safety Council, and Teamsters all agreed that there should be “some sort of policy that will protect working Americans who may lose their job as a result of automated trucks.”  2The American Trucking Associations, however, did not agree, believing that it was “not a displacement issue.”  Furthermore, the groups suggested that those drivers who were to operate these automated trucks should require additional endorsements.

The Impact on Safety

According to the hearing, “94% of investigated crashes can be attributed to driver error” and that self-driving trucks can help improve safety. 2

Controversially, groups also worried that automated trucks would lead to drivers being “over-reliant on technology.”  As National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman explains, “a truck equipped with electronic stability control does not give a driver freedom to go faster around curves. Likewise, a truck that features collision avoidance technologies does not clear the way for a driver to be drowsy or distracted behind the wheel.” 2

All in all, the majority of stakeholders agreed that a driver should always accompany the vehicle.

Cybersecurity

A major concern in the back of many minds is cybersecurity.  With trucks operating in cloud-based systems, the worry of thieves hacking into the systems, deactivating GPS features, and controlling where the trucks go leads to threats of stolen goods, terrorist attacks, and more.

Is it Ready for Inclusion in the Bill?

On one hand, Senators believed that commercial trucks are not ready to be included yet and that technology must first be proven.  As the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Ken Hall notes, “It is essential that American workers are not treated as guinea pigs for unproven technologies that could put their lives at risk.” 2

The Colorado State Patrol was hesitant on how these self-driving trucks would be stopped for inspections.

On the other hand, there were those who felt that a national standard needs to be set quickly otherwise, “states will start coming up with their own standards that may clash and stifle interstate commerce.” 3

What is your opinion on self-driving trucks?  Do you think that will add to the driver shortage?  Increase safety?  Should it be included in the bill?

 

1http://www.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryId=70786#.WcK-3MZryM9

2http://www.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryID=70837#.WcK4d8ZryM8

3http://www.supplychaindive.com/news/trucking-industry-senate-house-autonomous-trucks-driver-shortage/504993/