Almost a month ago we looked at the pending legislation which would speed the technology of self-driving vehicles to market, going so far as to allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to suspend certain safety regulations for the vehicles during the roll out. The bill in question has already passed the House, and now the Senate Commerce Committee has approved their own version to go to the floor for a vote.
Of course, when I mentioned “self-driving vehicles” above, I should have been more specific. It’s really just self-driving cars, not trucks, because the Democrats somehow managed to muscle a huge gift for the labor unions into the deal.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to speed self-driving cars to market without human controls and bar states from imposing regulatory road blocks.
The bill still must be approved by the full Senate. The U.S. House passed a similar version last month unanimously. General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co and others have lobbied for the landmark legislation. Despite some complaints from Republicans, the Senate bill does not speed approval of self-driving technology for large commercial trucks after labor unions raised safety and employment concerns.
The measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would allow automakers to win exemptions from current safety rules that prohibit vehicles without human controls.
States could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but not performance standards.
We had originally heard that at least some of the Republicans involved were going to push back against this huge kickback to the labor unions, but that apparently evaporated. The sketchy coverage of the committee hearings only goes so far as to say that “several Republicans noted the strong support of trucking unions,” but then goes on to confirm that the Democrats weren’t going to support the measure unless trucks were left out.
To be clear, this has virtually nothing to do with safety. Cars vastly outnumber trucks on the road and the trucks tend to carry cargo, not human beings. If you can make a safe self-driving car you could do the same for a truck, with the added benefit of being able to program the truck to ditch itself in an emergency to save the lives of people riding in cars. The Democrats were simply following the marching orders of the unions who were protecting the jobs of truck drivers.
I don’t want to see those jobs lost either, but that’s the nature of automation. When you automate any aspect of industry or business you’re pretty much always eliminating somebody’s job. But if you have a strong enough union that buys the votes of enough politicians I suppose technological advancement can be thwarted after all.
There’s nothing but vague lip service in this current proposal when it comes to questions of hacking and how self-driving cars could be turned into weapons with the hapless riders becoming little more than hostages on their way to a deadly crash. It was, ironically enough, a Democrat (Richard Blumenthal) who attempted to get in an amendment mandating making human controls available so a person could take over in the event of a crisis. That proposal was shot down also.
There’s some serious crony capitalism going on here, and this unproven technology is apparently going to be rolled out with the blessing of Congress unless someone manages to derail or at least amend it in the floor vote. We’ll need to keep a close eye on this over the next three years. When you see a deal like this shoehorned through in such a fashion, some people are positioned to make a lot of money. Once you have the full list of those folks we’ll probably be able to figure out the rest.