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Regulate Self Driving Cars

After some high profile accidents, Transportation unions want Congress to deal with Autonomous Vehicles

Brian Young's picture
May 19, 2021

As technology changes, autonomous vehicles are becoming more prevalent. Tesla has a self-driving car, Waymo, Uber, and Lyft are all testing them, and Amazon has spent years talking about using drones to quickly deliver packages. As these vehicles become more prevalent, unions are saying that it is time for the government to take action to regulate these vehicles for the safety of drivers and workers.

In a joint statement from the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), the organizations announced a legislative framework for the testing, deployment, and regulation of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The two groups noted that they represent millions of transportation workers whose jobs and safety will be affected by the mass rollout of AVs. Their proposal focuses on 5 key areas to promote safety, equity, and the integrity of jobs and wages.

In regards to safety, the unions want to prioritize abiding by the framework that was developed in the Joint AV Tenets, which was introduced by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. These include creating a standard for collision avoidance systems, a “vision test” for AV vehicles that ensures they “see” everything in the environment from people of all skin colors to bikes to other cars and road hazards, a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) that provides alerts to drivers who aren’t paying attention while the car drives and a cybersecurity standard to prevent hacking. The unions also want the federal government to continue to include a carve-out for vehicles over 10,000 pounds and require all vehicles under 10,000 pounds to have a human driver or operator. They also want more regulation on smaller delivery bots or AV small vehicles used for commercial purposes.

In regards to potential lost jobs from AV technology, the unions want a robust workforce training and job loss mitigation plan. They also want to ensure consumer rights, equity, and accessibility are key components of any AV framework, and that any federal policy on AVs that leads to the development of the technology is manufactured in the United States and creates middle-class, U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Labor leaders warn that if lawmakers fail to adopt these protections and AV technology continues to operate in the largely unregulated way it currently does, the U.S. will face significant economic, safety, and mobility challenges. Reports estimate that as many as 3 million workers could have their jobs fundamentally changed or replaced by AVs. This includes many trucks, taxis, and rideshare drivers.

Recent accidents have also brought the need for regulation into the spotlight. On May 5th, noted Tesla Tiktoker Steven Hendrickson died when his Tesla crashed while on full self-driving mode. Since 2016 at least three Tesla’s have been involved in fatal crashes while in Autopilot or self-driving mode.

“Proponents of AVs are quick to champion their potential benefits, and even quicker to ignore fundamental harms these new technologies could inflict on our communities if we aren’t careful,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “The policies promoting safety, equity, and economic justice that transportation labor unions have outlined today must act as the cornerstone of any AV legislation Congress considers.”

While new technology may make it safer for workers, such as lane assist that warns a truck driver of an obstacle in their way, the technology is not there yet to be fully autonomous, nor is there a plan to help these 3 million workers whose industry could be disappearing.

“The TWU’s guiding principle for implementing new technology is ‘Workers First.’ Implementing new technology can be a win across the board, but only when workers are proactively protected. Before they rush to promote unsafe and unproven technologies, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. must prioritize a just transition for the workers who will actually be affected,” said John Samuelsen, International President of the Transport Workers Union.

The unions released this plan as the House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to hold hearings on the promises and perils of automobile technology.

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