October 4th marked the passing of bipartisan legislation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation on the subject of government support for self-driving technology—yet, despite numerous proposals from advocacy groups, the Committee purposely crafted the law to omit large trucks and buses. Known as the AV START Act (S. 1885), the bill touches on a number of topics in regards to the concept of self-driving automobiles; including that of safety standards, cybersecurity, consumer protection and clarifying the roles of federal, state and local governments.
While a huge step forward for the practical implementation of this futuristic technology, the Senate Committee made a point to omit trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds from the legislation—in spite of efforts from lobbyists who fought to have commercial trucks included. The President of the American Trucking Association (ATA), Chris Spear, made it clear that they would continue to push acceptance of the technology for transport trucks by saying, “[this bill] is not the end of the road for this issue. If more automated cars and trucks are to share the roads, they should also share the same framework.”
Such sentiment is in addition to numerous transportation manufacturers that are currently racing to bring self-driving trucks to market. Daimler, Tesla and Google are all vying to deliver a viable product in the next 12-36 months. In fact, Daimler (Mercedes Benz’s parent company) has already been officially licensed to operate their autonomous Freightliner Inspiration Truck on Nevada’s public roadways. Proponents claim that such technology operating on our highways will help to reduce congestion and fuel consumption in addition to improving safety by removing the risks of driver fatigue, error and substance abuse.
Yet, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of removing drivers from the future of trucking; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union (1.4-million member strong) has fought such legislation, claiming it would cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. This, of course, does not necessarily align with current data that says fewer and fewer candidates are interested in taking up the occupation, and that the turnover rate within larger fleets remains at ridiculously high levels—often nearing triple-digits.
It’s evident that large commercial vehicles will adopt at the very least some aspects of the latest technologies that are being embraced by their smaller-sized, passenger-carrying cousins; it is the path of progress on which they both travel. What such a transition will require, though, is governmental support on state and federal levels to ensure that such measures are implemented with safety in mind—especially for those of us who will be sharing the roads with these large, driverless cargo-carrying vehicles.
Michael Leizerman is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He understands all facets of truck accident litigation; including federal regulations, drug and alcohol testing and hours of service requirements. He has authored a treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Associates by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.
Michael Jay Leizerman is the managing partner at EJ Leizerman & Associates, LLC, Toledo, OH. He is a frequent lecturer who teaches other attorneys how to handle truck accident cases across the country.