- Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Gary Peters (D-MI) reached a deal last week to scratch the House's SELF-DRIVE Act and write their own bill for automated vehicles — The American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act — that the Senate Commerce Committee passed unanimously by voice vote Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Removing provisions for automated trucks and buses is the big change to the bill. According to both Thune's and Peters' press releases, this new legislation will apply to automated vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.
- The AV START Act will allow carmakers to sell up to 80,000 autonomous vehicles per year and skip federal motor carrier safety review and approval processes until three years after enactment, when up to 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer per year will undergo "enhanced" review and approval processes, according to Peters' press release.
Given that senators reacted with skepticism to proponents of automated trucking in a committee hearing a few weeks ago, the trucking industry had reason to expect that trucks would be excluded from the final bill. But American Trucking Associations (ATA) Chief Chris Spear still wrote a letter to senators supporting the inclusion of trucks in the bill, clearly disappointed that senators Thune and Peters decided to nix trucks from being included.
“It is simply inconceivable that this legislation would favor one type of vehicle over another, as both cars and trucks travel together every day on the same roads and bridges,” Spear wrote to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) on Oct. 3, according to Transport Topics. “While some committee members have expressed concern for the impact automated vehicles will have on jobs, this bill, and this technology for that matter, is not about driver displacement.”
The industry is still convinced that allowing automated truck innovation will only spur job creation, encourage revenue growth and make truck driving safer. Although Thune and Peters clarified that the Senate plans to develop regulation for automated trucks in the future, there is no timeline, and that has left industry leaders feeling jipped.
As for the future of automated trucking, it's likely innovation will still move forward. But without federal standards in place, manufacturers will find it difficult to know what they can and cannot do. Some are already testing prototypes, but now they'll need to keep those on the back burner until Congress is convinced the technology won't harm the industry.