Senate Panel Approves Autonomous Vehicle Legislation as Labor Blocks Trucks, Buses, Large Vans From Inclusion in Its Framework

October 06, 2017

The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved legislation (S. 1885, the AV START Act) paving the way for the interstate operation of autonomous vehicles by, among other things, preempting conflicting state regulatory schemes.  Similar legislation (H.R. 3388, the SELF DRIVE Act) was approved by the House of Representatives by voice vote in September.  However, both that measure and the Senate Commerce bill specifically exempt any vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds, an exclusion that sweeps in trucks, buses, and most larger delivery vans.  Thus far, the legislation has strong bipartisan support.  Acceptance of the heavy vehicle exemption, however, which is supported by Teamsters and other labor organizations fearful that AV bills will displace drivers, has proven controversial.  Senator John Thune (R-ND), the Chairman of the Commerce Committee and the bill's lead sponsor along with Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), held a hearing last month during which the justifications for the inclusion of all vehicles were well articulated by the American Trucking Associations.  The legislation represents the first time Congress has dealt with the potential impact of artificial intelligence on work, and Congress is willing to protect only cars powered by the technology, despite the fact that there is a growing shortage of more than 50,000 truck drivers in the United States.  The AV START Act now goes to the Senate floor where the debate over the truck exclusion may continue.  As Senator Todd Young (R-IN) argued, "We ought to be including large trucks…The interstate nature of large truck driving makes it essential…This is primarily not being included on account of labor market concerns…I think that's short sighted."