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Will trucks be included in Senate’s self-driving legislation?

House passes self-driving car legislation Wednesday that excludes commercial vehicles

The U.S. House passed driverless car legislation on Wednesday, but the bill does not address commercial trucks and the likelihood of trucks being included is uncertain at this point. The U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee is holding a hearing next week to discuss self-driving trucks, with possible draft legislation released before the hearing, The Hill reported.

The Teamsters and other safety advocacy groups oppose self-driving trucks. The Teamsters lobbied hard this summer to ensure the House bill did not include commercial vehicles.

“It is vital that Congress ensure that any new technology is used to make transportation safer and more effective, not used to put workers at risk on the job or destroy livelihoods,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said in a statement at the time.

The Senate has not introduced companion legislation yet and there is no indication on whether it will vote on the House bill or write a new bill. It could also add commercial vehicle provisions to any bill.  Sen. John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, seems intent on including trucking in any driverless vehicle legislation.

“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,” he said.

The Self Drive Act passed by the House on Wednesday would prevent states from implementing laws that govern autonomous technology. Under provisions of the bill, automakers would be allowed to deploy up to 25,000 self-driving cars in the first year and 100,000 within three years that don’t meet normal safety standards. Vehicles would need to be under 10,000 pounds.

“Self-driving cars hold the promise of making America’s roads safer, creating new economic opportunities, and helping seniors and those with disabilities live more independently,” Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said in a joint statement. “This bipartisan bill paves the way for advanced collision avoidance systems and self-driving cars nationwide, and ensures that America stays a global leader in innovation.”

States will maintain responsibility for registration, insurance, driver education, enforcement and other local concerns with manufacturers required to include cybersecurity and privacy protections in the vehicles.

NHTSA would be responsible for setting traffic safety standards. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to announce guidelines for manufacturing autonomous vehicles next week.

“Self-driving cars have the potential in the future to reduce deaths and injuries from car crashes, particularly those that result from driver distraction,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Commerce Committee Democrat, said before the vote. “This bill allows for testing and deployment of self-driving cars to help the United States reach that potential sooner.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.