“Self-driving technology for trucks and other large vehicles has emerged as a pivotal issue in Congress’ attempt to help usher in a new era of transportation,” said Thune. “This hearing will offer all members of the Commerce Committee the opportunity to hear expert testimony on the future highway safety benefits of applying automated technology to trucks as well as perspectives on excluding trucks from legislation affecting small passenger vehicles.”
- Colonel Scott G. Hernandez, Chief, Colorado State Patrol
- Mr. Troy Clarke, Chief Executive Officer, Navistar
- Mr. Chris Spear, President and Chief Executive Officer, the American Trucking Associations
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available onwww.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman John Thune
Good morning. This committee has been working in a bipartisan fashion to address the advancement of automated vehicles. I would especially like to thank Senator Peters for partnering with me in this effort. I also appreciate the contributions of Ranking Member Nelson, who is unfortunately unable to join us today due to the ongoing relief efforts in Florida following Hurricane Irma.
We’ve put a lot of work into this effort to date, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to introduce and pass bipartisan legislation.
Given this Committee’s broad jurisdiction over transportation, interstate commerce, and vehicle safety, we are well-positioned to oversee and address the emergence of this transformative technology. Beginning last Congress, we’ve held two hearings and hosted a demonstration of this technology for Committee Members. With today’s hearing we will take a closer look at the promise and implications of the technology for trucks and larger vehicles.
Automated vehicle technology holds great promise to transform transportation in this country—expanding mobility, reducing traffic congestion and related emissions, and increasing productivity, among other benefits. But the most exciting aspect of this transformative advancement is the potential to save thousands of lives every year on our nation’s roadways.
In 2015, more than 35,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. With more than 90 percent of those deaths are attributable to human error, automated vehicles have the potential to reduce these tragic numbers dramatically. Too many lives are lost on our roads, and I look forward to hearing from Ms. Hersman about how automated vehicles—including trucks—can help to reduce this number.
Trucks share our roads, deliver our goods, and keep our economy moving. 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.
In 2015, trucks traveled over 280 billion miles to carry over 70 percent of the goods by tonnage on our roadways. A 2017 Energy Information Administration study projected that automated trucks could yield fuel savings between 6.7 and 18.6 percent, improving our economic competitiveness, lowering consumer prices, and supporting job growth. I am glad that Mr. Spear has joined us today to speak to the impacts of trucking on our economy and the role of automated trucks in the future of transportation innovation.
Testing and development is already ongoing as companies in the U.S. have increasingly explored the potential benefits of automated trucks. Companies like Uber, Tesla, Google, Embark, Starsky, and others have invested in automated truck technology. Truck manufactures like Navistar are actively pursuing automated technologies in trucks. Colonel Scott Hernandez, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol, who joins us today, has seen this technology firsthand. Last year, he participated in a test of Otto, now Uber’s truck startup, which drove 120 miles on Interstate 25 in Colorado.
As other countries devote significant attention and effort to stimulating innovation in this area, strong federal leadership will be necessary to maintain our position as a global leader and ensure these vehicles are tested and deployed safely.
Just yesterday, Secretary Chao announced the Department of Transportation has updated its policy guidance on automated vehicles. I am pleased to see action from the administration on this transformative technology. DOT’s new guidance improves upon similar efforts by the prior administration, and takes the same position regarding the inclusion of all motor vehicles—both cars and trucks, from light to heavy duty—under the same regulatory framework.
And, though their approaches differ, states that have passed automated vehicle legislation similarly cover all motor vehicles – cars and trucks. In doing so, they have recognized the need to address automated motor vehicles cohesively, without leaving out certain vehicle classes.
Of course, it’s important to consider all impacts of this new technology. It is crucial that we hear about the potential impact on jobs, and engage in a clear-eyed discussion about how to best prepare for the future. So, I am glad that Mr. Hall was able to join us today.
There are over 3 million commercial drivers in the U.S., and they are the backbone of the economy. Technological advancements have the potential to affect them in different ways—including in positive ways. Technology should make a driver’s life easier and safer, which in turn will improve the rest of our transportation system and those who use it every day
Automation will bring many benefits and many challenges, but they are not entirely new challenges. As former President Johnson said in response to the challenges of automation during his term, “Automation is not our enemy…Automation can be the ally of our prosperity if we will just look ahead, if we will understand what is to come, and if we will set our course wisely after proper planning for the future.” I’m glad we are continuing that discussion today.
I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses as we move forward with legislation to address automated vehicles.
Now, I turn to Senator Peters for his opening remarks.
Senator Gary Peters
Thank you to the Chairman for calling this important hearing.
I’m in this seat today because Sen. Nelson is back home in his great state of Florida, helping to begin the long recovery effort after the devastating Hurricane Irma, and our thoughts are certainly with him and his constituents this morning.
As the Chairman mentioned, last Friday he and I released a discussion draft of our self-driving car legislation, which is a result of months of collaborative effort, countless meetings with stakeholders across the spectrum of interests, and further bipartisan work with Senator Nelson.
I want to thank Chairman Thune and his staff for the long hours and effort that have gone into our bipartisan draft.
This legislation will provide the first-ever changes in federal law targeted at ushering in a new era in mobility and transportation innovation.
The bill will facilitate the safe development and adoption of self-driving cars, reduce existing regulatory barriers, and establish a new regulatory framework to support this innovation going forward.
Importantly, it will also ensure that the United States leads the international race to deploy these new technologies. We must develop and build them here, creating new 21st century manufacturing jobs in the United States.
For the remainder of this month, we will work diligently to resolve and finalize the outstanding issues in this draft legislation – including the topic of today’s hearing – whether highly-automated trucks and buses should be part of this particular legislation, or addressed in a separate bill.
I will note that while gathering feedback on Chairman Thune’s and my draft legislation, many stakeholders were clear that the prospect of self-driving trucks raises a very different set of issues from self-driving cars. And – ultimately – those same stakeholders expressed serious concerns with including self-driving trucks in this bill without a much more robust discussion and evaluation of their impact by industry, academia, and government.
I will also note that our draft legislation was informed by two Commerce Committee hearings – in March 2016 and June 2017 – and two iterations of NHTSA’s Federal Automated Vehicle Policy. All of which were focused on highly-automated light-weight, passenger cars – not trucks.
And finally, I will note that the House recently passed its self-driving vehicle legislation unanimously, without the inclusion of self-driving trucks weighing over 10,001 pounds.
It is indisputable that the trucking industry is critically important to our economy and to our day-to-day consumer needs, delivering more than 10 billion tons of freight-per-year and employing more than 3 million Americans as truck drivers.
The same can be said of the bus industry, which provides important transportation options for many Americans and creates thousands of jobs.
Major changes to these industries brought on by high levels of automation will have major impacts on jobs, transportation and the economy – not to mention roadway safety.
And we need to make sure that when we do establish a regulatory framework for self-driving trucks – we get it right after having considered all of the implications.
For example, we need to be able to answer fundamental questions like, what is the trucking industry’s timeline for deployment of highly-automated trucks?
- Will the industry deploy levels 4 or 5 automated trucks, or will it stick to lower levels of automation?
- What specific federal motor vehicle safety standards will highly-automated trucks need exemptions from?
- Do the unique characteristics of the trucking industry require additional safeguards for highly-automated trucks, particularly for safety and cybersecurity issues?
- How will changes to the vehicle safety standards impact operations and enforcement? And should we be considering those impacts now?
- What are the job impacts of highly-automated trucks and what are the industry’s plans for retraining or reassigning the drivers who are in danger of being out of work?
But in our discussions to date, we have not gotten as clear of an understanding on issues related to self-driving trucks as we have during our countless discussions on self-driving cars. As a result, I am of the mind that highly-automated trucks are not ripe for inclusion in this bill.
Before I close, I want to be clear that improving safety on our highways is critically important to me. It is one of the reasons why advancing this self-driving car legislation is so important to me. And I recognize that in the long-term, self-driving trucks and buses are also intended to improve safety on our highways. That is certainly clear. But I question assertions that excluding self-driving trucks from this particular bill will result in less safe roads and that they don’t merit special considerations going forward. 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.
I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here today and for helping to start the conversation on this very important topic. I look forward to your testimony.
Colonel Scott G HernandezChiefColorado State Patrol
Mr. Troy ClarkeChief Executive OfficerNavistar
Ms. Deborah HersmanPresident and Chief Executive OfficerNational Safety Council
Mr. Chris SpearPresident and Chief Executive OfficerThe American Trucking Associations
Mr. Ken HallGeneral Secretary-TreasurerInternational Brotherhood of Teamsters