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Labor to DOT: Scrap Trump administration’s automated vehicles plan

As Reported by John Gallagher for Freightwaves

Two prominent labor unions want the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject the Trump administration’s automated vehicle (AV) strategy for relying too much on the viewpoint from industry without enough attention paid to potential damage to worker safety and jobs.

The 38-page Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan (AVCP), one of the last documents released for public comment by DOT under Secretary Elaine Chao before she left the administration in January, laid out the previous administration’s vision for integrating AVs – both cars and heavy trucks – into the U.S. transportation system.

The plan received 23 comments before the comment period closed on Tuesday, with trucking technology companies generally supporting the strategy and labor rejecting it.

“This document doubles down on the previous administration’s irresponsible, hands-off approach to AV deployment and regulation and mostly boosts the agency’s role as cheerleader and enabler rather than safety regulator,” wrote John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), which represents transit workers.

“It fails to offer a single proposal on workforce training and transition strategies and leaves frontline transportation workers to fend for themselves. We have every confidence that the Biden administration and you, Mr. Secretary, will carefully consider job impacts and workforce training and readiness as you ferret out policy choices around emerging transportation automation technologies. A reboot is needed.”

The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), which consists of 33 affiliated unions representing workers in all modes of transportation including drivers, urged DOT to withdraw the plan.

“The public cannot make informed choices about technology and its safety if there are no mandated regulatory standards to compare technologies,” commented TTD President Greg Regan. “Allowing self-regulated entities to make these standards themselves is a dangerous policy that should not be carried forward.”

Concern over the rollout of automated technology is becoming more prominent as the federal government publishes more information on the potential effects on truck driver jobs and as Congress begins hearings on zero-emission infrastructure strategies, which can overlap with automation.

The plan states that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will host a series of sessions with automated driving system (ADS) equipped commercial motor vehicle (CMV) developers, truck manufacturers, motor carriers, industry associations and other groups to further develop industry-based standards for trucks that eventually will be operated without a driver.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports DOT’s plan in that it recognizes the need for a “flexible framework” for both passenger and commercial vehicles, emphasizing equal priority for both.

“ATA emphasizes that DOT should include trucking use cases when developing rulemakings and considering standards,” said Ross Froat, the ATA director of technology and engineering policy, adding it also should consider regulatory issues relevant to CMV systems, ADS components and overall safety. “Commercial vehicle freight delivery plays an integral role in the development of AV technology – one that should be given as much priority as ADS applications in passenger vehicles.”

However, as with labor, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association pushed back on DOT’s plan, contending that it “falls short of implementing the necessary requirements for technology developers and manufacturers that would win public confidence in the testing and deployment of AVs,” asserted Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s president and CEO.

“While AVs might improve safety under certain conditions, they create new risks with dangerous outcomes. Beyond ensuring that regulations provide appropriate standards for the safe operation of AVs, DOT must consider unforeseen concerns and practices that might offset the potential safety, mobility, and sustainability benefits from the technology.”