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U.S. labor leader calls for human drivers in automated vehicles

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A Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid self-driving vehicle returns to a depot in Chandler, Arizona, November 29, 2018. Picture taken November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

A senior American labor union leader will tell U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that the government should require human operators in all self-driving passenger services to take over in the event of an emergency.

Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department for the AFL-CIO, will tell a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee that autonomous vehicles place "millions of jobs at risk" and any legislation to speed deployment of self-driving cars should not apply to commercial trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more, according to his written testimony released by the panel on Monday.

"We do not allow passenger airplanes to operate without pilots or passenger rail to run without engineers, and we should use a similar approach with AVs that operate on our often-congested roadways and in complex transit networks," Regan says in his testimony.

Regan's testimony comes after Reuters reported last week that Alphabet Inc’s Waymo (GOOGL.O) and rival Cruise have applied for permits to start charging for rides and delivery using autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. read more

"Our call here is not to say: 'Stop Tech,'" Regan said in an interview. "You are talking about millions of jobs that are professional drivers ... and if we're not thinking about that now, there may be really dire consequences."

Waymo said it planned to start with "drivered operations" and Cruise expects to deploy vehicles without humans behind the wheel, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Concerns raised by major unions, including the Teamsters, are one reason that legislation to grant U.S. regulators the power to exempt tens of thousands of self-driving cars from U.S. safety regulations has not been approved despite five years of efforts.

"We have seen the impacts of automation on other sectors — manufacturing, health care, and retail, to name a few — and the consequences when public policy fails to protect the workers and users it impacts," Regan will tell lawmakers, also raising concerns about "alternative design vehicles such as delivery bots. Any vehicle that is under the 10,000-pound threshold that will travel on public roads must be properly regulated."

The efforts come at a turning point for Waymo, which Google launched over a decade ago. Cruise, backed by General Motors Co (GM.N), Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T) and SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T), has focused on San Francisco since its beginning.

Cruise declined to comment on the testimony, while Waymo said in a statement that U.S. regulators "should have a leading role in ensuring the safe deployment of AVs. ... The phased approach to regulation that we’ve recommended would ensure a smart balance between close federal oversight and innovation."

Senator John Thune, a Republican, last week blamed "the trial lawyers and the Teamsters" for blocking self-driving car legislation that he said could save thousands of lives.

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