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September 18, 2017 12:30 PM, EDT
Capitol Agenda for the Week of Sept. 18: Truck Platooning
Jonathan S. Reiskin/Transport Topics

Federal transportation agencies hosted a truck platooning demonstration on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia last week to showcase the advancements of autonomous technology ready for commercial use next year.

Industry is proceeding quickly with the technology’s deployment. Not surprisingly, Congress has struggled to keep up, but it seems there’s some daylight amid the congressional gridlock.

Observers are closely tracking a split among policymakers in the Senate over whether to include truck policy in an autonomous vehicle bill. The Republican leadership on the Commerce Committee expressed interest in doing so, while most Democrats disagree. The panel vented its differences Sept. 13.

RELATED: FHWA Demonstrates 3-Truck Platoon in Virginia

Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) sounded disappointed with Democrats who criticized recent voluntary guidelines on the matter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“For those who think the NHTSA guidance isn’t strong enough, that would argue to me for why we ought to have all these covered by the legislation,” Thune said.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat drafting the legislation with Thune, insisted that stand-alone legislation would better address concerns from the trucking industry.

“We need to make sure that when we do establish a regulatory framework for self-driving trucks, we get it right after having considered all of the implications,” Peters said.

Trucking executives told the senators drivers will remain integral to the movement of goods and services for the foreseeable future.

Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, however, urged senators to exercise caution. He cited recklessness on the part of companies, such as Volkswagen and air bag manufacturer Takata.

“Market forces did not convince these companies not to cheat and push the envelope past what was safe. And that same mentality is a constant factor in the trucking space, where margins are consistently tight and competition is fierce,” Hall said. “The fear of many transportation workers is that absent strong action and guidance from this committee and others, a new generation of autonomous vehicles will provide limitless opportunity for this same pattern of reckless behavior.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated its voluntary automated commercial and passenger vehicle federal guidance for manufacturers and states that plan to deploy self-driving vehicles.

WEEK AHEAD

Sept. 19-20: The National Transportation Safety Board hosts a forum on “Runway Incursion Safety Issues, Prevention, and Mitigation.” 

Sept. 19, 9:45 a.m.: The Business Roundtable holds a conference call to release results of CEOs economic outlook survey for the third quarter. Participants include Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable.

Sept. 19, 10 a.m.: The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing titled, “Business Tax Reform.” Witnesses include Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, and Donald Marron, institute fellow at the Urban Institute and Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Sept. 20, 8 a.m.: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority meets to review the Dulles corridor, and strategic development. http://www.mwaa.com/board-meeting-schedule

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

MEAL & REST: A proposal aimed at guaranteeing nationwide uniformity of meal and rest break rules for truck drivers has hit a snag this year in the U.S. Senate. 

DAIMLER HEART NY: Daimler Trucks is trying to gain a foothold in the nascent electric-truck market with short-range haulers that can make New York City’s clogged streets cleaner and quieter.

WE ALL APPRECIATE: Truck drivers have a message for America: While we appreciate the outpouring of thanks during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, what we really want is respect on the highways, at the loading docks and in the office for the job we do.

WHAT WE’RE READING:

The Hill reports that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) indicated President Donald Trump is “serious” about rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure

BUZZ:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acting Administrator Daphne Jefferson tells Transport Topics she won’t get the nod to run the agency in a permanent capacity. A nominee for the agency’s top spot is expected to be announced this fall.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

Putting $1 trillion into rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system. That’s the agenda we’ve got to fight on.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Meet The Press on Sept. 17.

FAVORITE VIDEO:

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, is the latest stakeholder to sound the alarm on the need for long-term funding for infrastructure projects.

FAVORITE TWEET:

House transportation committee ranking Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio, applauds the recent federal aid to help Oregon cope with recent wildfires.

Thank you for reading Capitol Agenda. We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow @eugenemulero and @transporttopics on Twitter.