Trucking group disappointed self-driving bill leaves out big vehicles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. trucking group said Thursday it was disappointed that a compromise bill to advance self-driving cars and eliminate regulatory roadblocks will not include larger vehicles.

A partially self driving Uber semi truck at the Mcity autonomous vehicle testing facility in Ann Arbor Michigan, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph White

American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said in a statement the announcement “is not the end of the road for this issue. If more automated cars and trucks are to share the roads, they should also share the same framework.”

Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, and Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, said they had reached agreement on legislation that would be voted on by the committee on Oct. 4.

General Motors Co GM.N, Alphabet Inc GOOGL.O, Ford Motor Co F.N and others have lobbied for the legislation to speed deployment of self-driving cars by allowing federal regulators to approve their use if they deem them safe. They also want to bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles.

Reuters reported late Wednesday that the bill would not include larger commercial trucks after Democrats and some organized labor leaders objected. The senators confirmed Thursday that the bill would not include vehicles larger than 10,000 pounds.

A bill that unanimously passed the U.S. House earlier this month also excluded bigger vehicles. Under that proposal, states could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but would be barred from setting self-driving car performance standards.

The House measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at bringing self-driving cars to market, would allow automakers to get approval to sell up to 25,000 vehicles in the first year, rising to 100,000 by year three, as long as they could demonstrate the vehicles are at least as safe as current vehicles with human controls.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an automaker trade group, on Thursday praised the bill and said it will “help advance self-driving technologies and help keep the United States at the forefront of these innovations.”

The 1.4-million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters union mounted an aggressive effort to convince Congress not to include self-driving trucks, warning they could lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and reduce road safety.

Auto industry and labor leaders have said 3 million commercial truck jobs could eventually be at risk if self-driving vehicles replaced human drivers, who are already in short supply.

Alphabet is working on developing self-driving trucks. Tesla Inc TSLA.O, which is developing self-driving technologies, has said it plans to unveil a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi.

Consumers Union, a public advocacy group, said the Senate “bill falls far short of what consumers need. Instead of making consumer safety the top priority, it removes critical guardrails to create a fast lane for self-driving cars.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler