A U.S. Congressional committee responsible for funding federal transportation programs is calling on regulators to develop a “national strategy” to address drivers who could be displaced by autonomous vehicles (AVs).
In a report published on June 3 explaining priorities set out in the initial draft of the transportation funding bill for fiscal year 2020, the House Appropriations Committee registered concern that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its subsidiary agencies were not adequately preparing for challenges that could result from automation, particularly the potential for putting drivers out of work.
“While the Committee recognizes the vast potential of automated vehicles, the Committee is concerned that this technological transformation may displace workers who currently earn their living driving a vehicle,” it stated. “The Committee encourages DOT to consider the potential for job displacement and urges DOT to convene relevant public and private stakeholders to develop a national strategy to address this issue.”
The report, published as the full Appropriations committee was set to mark up and vote on the transportation funding bill on June 4, pointed out that the bill released in May by the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee provides $18.5 million for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) – part of DOT – to continue research on AVs, automated driving systems, advanced driver assistance systems, vehicle electronics and cybersecurity.
“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to fundamentally transform transportation networks by reducing the number of lives lost on our roads and by improving mobility options,” it asserted. “Research into the safety and operations of these new technologies is a key part of NHTSA’s mission.”
But the committee report also called out NHTSA for not providing “sufficient oversight” on the safety implications of AV technology.
“The Committee supports performance-based minimum standards for AVs and directs NHTSA to collaborate with [DOT’s] Office of the Secretary to ensure that AVs are safe for occupants, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists,” the report stated. “In addition, the Committee directs NHTSA to develop regulations providing common terminology for the identification of vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems and ‘highly automated’ vehicle systems.”
The Trump Administration has made automation in transportation a priority through its AV 3.0 initiative as it seeks to streamline regulations and encourage technology investment.
However, “these investments must be paired with a renewed commitment to safety from DOT…state and local partners, and industry,” said David Price (D-North Carolina), before the markup of the funding bill.
“Rising accident rates on our nation’s highways, the high-profile MAX 8 crashes, the deployment of autonomous systems across all modes, and lead and carbon monoxide hazards in our federally assisted housing require us to redouble our efforts.”
Price noted that the bill also sets aside $10 million to create a new “Highly Autonomous Systems Safety Center of Excellence,” a dedicated workforce within USDOT with expertise in automation and human behavior, including computer science, machine learning and sensors.
“This center will bolster the department’s in-house capacity to examine, audit, inspect and certify these complex systems across all modes,” Price said.