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Lawmakers question automation’s effects on trucking workforce

AS REPORTED IN TRANSPORTATION TODAY

Several members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee expressed concern over how the move to self-driving vehicles will affect the tens of thousands of truck and bus drivers and questioned a panel of experts on how Congress may lessen the burden of automation on the workforce.

Noting the impending Dec. 18 deadline for electronic logging devices in every truck, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) said Congress should be careful about mandating additional requirements for automation in trucking.

“We in Washington should not have any part in inhibiting or prohibiting or limiting any of the (self-driving) technologies,” Babin said during a round table discussion Thursday on Emerging Technologies in the Trucking Industry for the committee.

The industry panel, which included a senior executive of J.B. Hunt, who was representing the American Trucking Associations, a senior executive of Volvo Group North America, a top official with the National Safety Council and a top labor official, led a two-hour discussion on the potential impact of automated driving systems, their effects on the workforce and potential government regulation.

Greer Woodruff, senior vice president of Safety, Security and Driver Personnel for J.B. Hunt, assured lawmakers of a continued role for manpower even with the expansion of automation. “As the economy grows there will be more room for drivers,” said Woodruff. “We do see drivers as being indispensable for the foreseeable future.”

Susan Alt, senior vice president of Public Affairs for Volvo Group North America, assured that emerging technologies will enhance the role of drivers. “We like to design new automation technology to relax, not replace the drivers,” she said.

Woodruff said the adoption of automated collision technologies has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in front-end collisions for the J.B. Hunt fleet and a major decline in the severity in the remaining front-end accidents. “We are seeing some very positive benefits from the technology,” he said.

Jane Terry, senior director of Government Affairs for the National Safety Council, said the adoption of driver automation is resulting in vast improvements in highway safety, adding “all vehicle crashes are 100 percent preventable.”

National Safety Council data shows trucks account for just 4 percent of total vehicles on U.S. roads but are involved in 11 percent of fatalities.

Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, warned that self-driving vehicles will put three-to-four million truck and bus drivers’ jobs in jeopardy.

“We have to get the labor policy right here,” said Miller, stressing the need for a balance between safety concerns and their impact on labor. He insisted that government has a critical role in the adaption of advanced vehicle technologies.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) asked the panel whether government has a potential role in expanding the truck driver workforce. J.B. Hunt’s Woodruff said job training and financial assistance, like government loans and grants, would be beneficial.

Several lawmakers wondered whether self-driving vehicles are going to be able to communicate with each other.

NSC’s Terry said the government plans a requirement for a dedicated broadband channel for unmanned vehicle communication. Volvo’s Alt said such vehicle-to-vehicle communication links will be vital. “They’re absolutely going to have to be able to communicate with each other and with the infrastructure (like traffic lights),” she added.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) asked the panelists about concerns over cyber security for self-driving trucks. Volvo’s Alt said vehicle manufacturers share information on cyber security through ISAC, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center, to create a common resource.

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