The Senate Commerce Committee voted today to apply a 10,000-pound weight limit to vehicles to be affected by new laws governing autonomous vehicle deployment, a decision that effectively excludes heavy- and medium-duty trucks from being considered in legislation now advancing in Congress.
The exclusion means that, in this bill at least, autonomous trucks and other self-driving commercial vehicles over the weight threshold cannot be deployed in the same manner as passenger vehicles. A bill governing autonomous truck operations is expected to be developed at some point.
The committee's decision is a victory for organized labor, which argued that autonomous truck operations present a host of complex issues that need to be addressed separately and at a later date, and that current vehicle legislation should focus instead on the operations of passenger cars and light-duty trucks. The need for Congress to write laws governing autonomous vehicle operations enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers.
Labor interests, led by the Teamsters union, have successfully lobbied the House to cap the weight limit in its version to 10,000 pounds. The Teamsters represent thousands of commercial drivers whose livelihoods could be disrupted by a large-scale shift to autonomous commercial-vehicle operations.
The full Senate will now take up the committee bill. However, it is unlikely the Senate will alter language capping the weight limit. Given that the House and Senate versions are in sync on this issue, it appears that any effort to bring heavy-duty trucks into the legislative mix is dead, at least in the near-term.