June 27, 2019 1:30 PM, EDT

Autonomous Transportation Technologies Touted by Senators

Autonomous's Brent Hutto testifies at the hearing. (Jeremy Kirkpatrick/American Trucking Associations)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

WASHINGTON — Trucks and cars equipped with automated features have the potential to enhance safety along the country’s freight and commuter corridors, facilitate the movement of freight and provide access to mobility for disabled individuals, members of the Senate Commerce Committee said recently.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters (D) emphasized he is collaborating with senior members of the committee, such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as counterparts in the U.S. House of Representatives to craft legislation that would establish guidelines for the deployment of such automated technology.

“We truly are living in very exciting times and the types of technological change that we’re going to see in the years ahead are truly transformational,” Peters said at a June 25 hearing.

Autonomous Vehicles Bill


Thune, formerly the panel’s chairman, expressed interest in including certain transportation technology provisions in an upcoming highway policy bill. The current highway law, known as the FAST Act, expires in the fall of next year.

“I’m hopeful that this highway bill can incorporate and integrate a lot of these new technologies into enhancing our supply chain,” Thune added.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Transportation and Safety Subcommittee, added the industry has been testing safety technology features, and anticipates wide-ranging adoption.

“Technology is already changing how we move people and goods across this country. And there is potential for new technology to improve safety, efficiency and mobility across our surface transportation system,” Fischer said, adding, “But with great potential comes challenges. The process of adopting new technologies, especially across a complex system like the U.S. transportation network, can come in fits and starts.”

Deb Fischer


Stakeholders shared the lawmakers’ sentiment about safety and called for legislative action.

In the previous session of Congress, Thune and Peters co-sponsored legislation that would have established a policy framework for autonomous technology. The Senate bill did not get a vote in the chamber amid pushback from lawmakers concerned about privacy. The House had passed a version.

“We are deeply committed to efforts to continuously improve the success of transportation and logistics operations including relationships between carriers, brokers and shippers,” Brent Hutto, chief relationship officer with digital freight-matching marketplace, said in prepared remarks. “We believe that adopting digital technology will ultimately improve our nation’s trucking infrastructure leading to improved safety on the roads and happier consumers.”

Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, told senators, “The sooner we can speed the deployment of technology, we think it’ll be a positive outcome.”

Shailen Bhatt


“Intelligent transportation technologies advance transportation safety and mobility, reduce congestion, improve air quality and enhance American productivity by integrating advanced technologies into transportation infrastructure, operations and vehicles,” Bhatt added in a statement to the committee. “Only with investment certainty will the nation finally see and benefit from the research and the large-scale transformational deployments of intelligent transportation technologies that will define the way people, goods, services and information move in the 21st century, and most importantly, finally help begin to reduce the epidemic of fatalities on our roadways.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017 there were 37,133 fatalities from motor vehicle crashes.