Autonomous vehicles becoming a national issue

Automated vehicles, an issue that will eventually have a serious impact on the trucking industry workforce – especially Teamster Union members – is quickly coming to the attention of both Congress and state legislatures, including two states in Joint Council 3.

At the national level, legislation was advanced in the House Energy & Commerce Committee that provides a starting point in the process of making rules concerning the testing and development of autonomous automobiles.

A study by the Center for Global Policy Studies estimates that a rapid transition to automated vehicles could result in more than four million lost jobs in the United States with taxi, bus and truck drivers the hardest-hit.

A positive factor in the recent vote of the House committee was persuasive and successful argument by the Teamsters for inclusion in the bill of a 10,000-pound weight limit in the legislation.

That means automated semi tractor-trailer trucks and other commercial vehicles with drivers can’t be deployed the way passenger vehicles would be under the bill. They must be considered separately.

“The wide range of issues that are inherent with vehicles used for commercial purposes warrants an entirely separate discussion and one that the Teamsters will be at the center of,” said James P. Hoffa, Teamster general president.

“Congress has wisely recognized that any such dialogue is entirely premature and must be done gradually, in the public view, and with the full engagement of all stakeholders.

“The millions of workers who make their livelihood in these industries will have an active role to play in shaping the future of their jobs and their industries. 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 to destroy livelihoods and chip away at the middle class,” Hoffa said.

Some 22 states, including Colorado and Utah in Joint Council 3, have enacted varying rules and guidelines concerning semiautonomous and autonomous vehicle testing. Unfortunately, many of those bills include semi trailer-trucks in their legislation, and don’t include remedies for jobs that will be lost by automated vehicles.

Steve Vairma, president of Teamster Joint Council 3, lamented that the bills being passed so far in the states show little or no consideration for those who would lose their jobs as a result of autonomous vehicles.

“When the time comes, we will certainly be calling on our political friends to make their voices heard. This is an issue we can’t allow them to ignore.”

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While certain aspects of autonomous vehicle technology have been in the trucking industry for many years, the pace of the development of these technologies toward a more fully autonomous vehicle, has greatly accelerated over the past several years.

Some 50 companies, including Otto (Uber), Tesla, Google, and others, are working on technologies in this area. The potential associated with these technologies for safety and productivity is substantial. Recent estimates indicate that upward to 15 percent of all trucks by 2035 could be highly autonomous vehicles.

Commercial vehicles and their drivers are held to higher safety standards than other motorists on our highways today. These higher standards were adopted because of the greater potential for injuries, fatalities and damages associated with larger vehicles.

They have been supported by the trucking industry, the Teamsters and law enforcement agencies, and have led to a significant reduction in the truck accident rate relative to passenger vehicles.

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