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Teamsters boss files objections to driverless trucks

Teamsters general secretary-treasurer Ken Hall testified yesterday at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on self-driving technology, urging for the exemption of commercial vehicles from pending legislation and the need for further analysis of the safety, jobs and cybersecurity impact of developing technologies.

“It is incumbent upon the members of this committee to help ensure that workers are not left behind in this process. It is essential that American workers are not treated as guinea pigs for unproven technologies that could put their lives at risk,” Hall said.

Hall noted the Teamsters Union is concerned about the impact of advanced automated technologies on highway safety. 

“The safety and reliability of these vehicles must be ensured before passing legislation to put them on the road. We’re not there yet,” Hall said.

Hall expressed grave concern over combining personal vehicles with commercial vehicles – such as 80,000 pound, 18-wheeler trucks – in the same legislation.

“The issues facing autonomous commercial trucks are fundamentally different, and potentially more calamitous than those facing passenger cars, and warrant their own careful consideration,” Hall said.

The US House of Representatives recently passed, and the Teamsters Union supported, an exemption for commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds in its version of automated vehicle legislation.

Hall told the committee that the Teamsters Union “looks forward to working together to ensure that the priorities and concerns of working families remain at the center of this debate”, and said that in all aspects of automation, but especially when considering commercial motor vehicles, “it is more important to get it done correctly rather than just done quickly”.

Hall mentioned that many of the corporations that employ Teamsters are responsible, but also noted the risk of “bad actors” in an environment without robust, thoughtful regulations for autonomous technology.

Yesterday, the US Department of Transportation released revised automated vehicle guidelines that allow for industry to submit safety assessments on a voluntary basis.

Also yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that a Tesla automation system’s operational limitations played a major role in a high-profile, fatal crash.

Hall was joined on the panel providing testimony with representatives from safety, law enforcement and auto industry groups.

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