What’s missing from the DOT’s automation advisory committee?

By Greg Grisolano, associate editor

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s federal advisory committee on automation has 25 members from the realms of manufacturing, politics, education, retail, insurance and Silicon Valley. But the board has no small-business truckers or owner-operators.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says that the lack of driver representation on the committee is disappointing, especially when anywhere from 4 million to 6 million truckers may find themselves displaced by driverless vehicles. That’s why OOIDA has asked Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to reopen nominations for the committee.

“Unlike many of the industries currently represented on the advisory committee, professional drivers are unlikely to experience significant economic gain under the looming autonomous revolution,” Spencer wrote Chao in a recent letter. “Absent the unique perspective of small-business truckers, the panel will struggle to appreciate the full impact automation will have on our economy and achieve its goal of making our transportation network more fair, reliable and efficient.”

The committee’s job is to give the DOT insight and guidance on the development and deployment of automated vehicles, while identifying research, policy and regulatory opportunities to help advance the technology in a safe and responsible manner.

Spencer’s letter noted that OOIDA represents small-business truckers, who compose 90 percent of the trucking industry, while single-truck enterprises account for approximately 50 percent of total carriers in the United States.

“Encompassing such a large portion of the trucking industry, OOIDA’s members will be deeply affected by the promulgation of autonomous technology,” Spencer wrote. “In the short-term, our members are concerned advanced automation will diminish the quality of their jobs. Not only will the fragmented introduction of technology make the operation of heavy trucks more unpredictable and stressful, but professional drivers will also face inconsistent driving conditions as passenger car owners adjust to the new features of their own vehicles.”

Spencer said another reason for having a trucker on the committee is “drivers will likely be the first to experience the technology’s shortcomings or deficiencies outside controlled testing scenarios, creating serious safety concerns for our members and the driving public.” LL