A bill just passed this week by the Senate will allow car manufacturers to put tens of thousands of new self-driving cars on the road each year, but an attempt to open the floodgates on self-driving trucks in the same bill was voted down.
The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act, or AV START Act, was passed with bipartisan support through the Senate on Wednesday. If signed into law, the bill will allow automakers to sell up to 80,000 autonomous cars each year, bypassing current safety regulations. Automakers will only qualify for the exemptions if they can show that their self-driving vehicle is at least as safe as cars currently on the road.
AV START would allow an increasing number of exemptions each year. In the first year, up to 15,000 exemptions can be issued; 40,000 in the second; and 80,000 in the third.
Currently the bill only applies to autonomous vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), pushed to include autonomous trucks in the bill as well, but that motion was voted down.
Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Association, was also pushing to include trucks in the regulation. According to Spear, a cohesive nationwide regulation for all vehicles is necessary. But others voiced concerns that trucks would need separate regulations from cars given the fundamental differences between them.
“We need to have a more complete understanding of the safety, workforce, and policy implications of highly automated trucks,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). Sen. Peters also cautioned that while some may assume that autonomous trucks will be safer than those driven by truckers, “we cannot allow such premature conclusions to stand in this Committee’s way of talking specifics.”
Now that the measure has been voted down, other trucking groups including the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association have signaled their willingness to help draw up autonomous truck legislation.
“We will work closely with members of the Commerce Committee to craft legislation that takes into account the impact autonomous technology will have on professional drivers, small businesses and most importantly, highway safety,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA according to Go By Truck.