The trucking industry must prepare, "whether we like it or not," for the arrival of self-driving, or autonomous, commercial motor vehicles, the new president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said today in his first "State of the Industry" address at the group's annual management conference in Las Vegas.
Chris Spear, who took over the top job in July, said that, if properly developed, autonomous vehicle technology can improve highway safety and operating efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce road and highway congestion, the latter of which costs the industry nearly $50 billion a year. Spear emphasized, however, that truck drivers will remain the most qualified to "navigate the cities and towns, make that pickup and delivery happen safely, and perhaps most importantly, secure that cargo."
Spear added that with Congress unlikely to raise the federal motor fuels tax that funds the nation's infrastructure programs, or even index the tax to inflation, the industry and the association must be prepared to realign our policies with the realities on Capitol Hill, beginning with a new means for funding our nation's infrastructure."
The inability of lawmakers to raise the diesel fuel and gasoline taxes, neither of which has been increased since 1993, "gives ideologues a platform to preach about 'devolving' federal interstate commerce to the states," Spear said. He added that Congressional inaction "elevates risks to safety by leaving infrastructure unattended."
Federal diesel and gasoline taxes are set at 24.4 cents and 18.4 cents per gallon, respectively.