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ATA Boss: Trucking Must Have Seat at Table for Autonomous-Driving Policy

Autonomous vehicles, including commercial trucks, are already a reality, but the trucking industry must have a “seat at the table … to develop a [policy] framework without stymying innovation,” Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, said at the ATA’s Management Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.

He said technology for autonomous trucks is growing rapidly. While there is potential for so much innovation, there are also regulatory and operational concerns that need to be addressed by governments and industry, Heavy Duty Trucking reported Spear as saying.

He said trucking is “a different animal than the car side” so the association is aiming to ensure the industry’s voice is heard as federal policymaking develops.

Spear recently criticized the process for developing the first federal guidelines for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, saying there was almost no input from the trucking industry.

He also pointed out that some individual states have moved ahead of Washington on autonomous vehicle policymaking, pointing to Nevada, which has enacted legislation and regulations to enable the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles.

According to the HDT report, Spear said connected and autonomous vehicles hold the promise of increasing highway safety, reducing fuel consumption and emissions, and by alleviating congestion, boosting trucking productivity, which in turn “would be better for driver pay.”

As for that seat at the table, Spear said he sees ATA working closely with DOT but also with other transportation modes as well as the auto industry as “our trucks will have to communicate with those cars” to gain the full measure of safety and traffic-flow benefits of autonomous driving.

He also said it’s imperative to “ensure that the technology will be reliable and understood by all industries and government agencies before it is deployed” on a large scale.

Turning to Capitol Hill, Spear said that he expects Congress will “largely focus on oversight” of autonomous regulations with an eye to not inhibiting technological innovations.

Spear added that what must be asked is “How fast can our government get into this game and be collaborative— so the result is good for safety and the economy.”