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WASHINGTON — Autonomous technology meant to enhance freight connectivity could transform the country’s commercial landscape and improve safety, President Joe Biden’s nominee to oversee trucking regulations told a U.S. Senate panel Sept. 22.
Appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Meera Joshi, nominated to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said technologies related to self-driving vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle communication aim to modernize freight and passenger sectors while promoting overall safety.
“We are indeed in a time of incredible transition within the industry,” Joshi told senators. “The transition from mechanical to [artificial intelligence] occurs but for FMCSA, the mission of safety is the No. 1 priority, stays the same. So our challenge is to ensure that our regulations to uphold roadway safety translate into an [artificial intelligence] world.”
Specific to trucking, she added, “The principles remain the same. And we’re embarking on that work now to stand up a regulatory framework for [autonomous vehicle] trucking so that safety is No. 1. There is room for innovation so that the crash prevention technology that AI brings can benefit road users and there are accountability measures, so we understand critical things in an automated world.”
Joshi, currently FMCSA’s deputy administrator, emphasized that the agency intends to continue collaborating with stakeholders to establish a federal framework meant to assist with the technology’s deployment. In recent years, federal regulators have sought to facilitate industry’s access to autonomous vehicles.
Separately, pressed by senators on efforts that would enhance commercial operations for haulers of livestock and agricultural commodities, the nominee told the panel she acknowledged a need for flexibility. As she put it, “We must be understanding of the businesses we regulate and I commit to working with you and the agricultural and livestock industry to make sure that our rules never undermine safety, but allow them to operate.”
Certain exemptions from electronic logging devices, or ELDs, are in effect for hauling livestock, as well as insects. ELDs are used to monitor drivers’ work time.
When looking at the industry’s contributions to safety and the economy, Joshi applauded the workforce’s commitment to serve as a vital pillar of the freight sector. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, myriad truck drivers and freight companies delivered essential goods and services at cities and communities. The industry also offers valuable support during natural disasters, earning praise from government officials.
“Commercial motor vehicles, [also known as] large trucks and buses, are not only essential to America’s thriving economy, transporting over 70% of the nation’s freight as well as our loved ones, they are critical in crisis. Throughout COVID[-19], the trucking industry has been at the forefront, moving vaccines, testing supplies and oxygen,” said Joshi. “Most recently, during Hurricane Ida, large trucks brought emergency supplies to our hardest hit regions.”
Before joining the Biden administration, Joshi was tasked with leading the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. She earned degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
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In expanding on her qualifications for the top FMCSA post, she said, “I worked collaboratively with drivers, large and small operators, tech companies, safety and labor advocates, elected officials, their constituents, passengers, as well as the general public. The result of these productive relationships was balanced policy that raised safety and accountability standards for all.”
At the hearing, committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) praised the nominee’s background, such as her nearly two decades leading government oversight agencies. “If confirmed, Joshi would be responsible for directing the agency’s national safety and enforcement program,” Cantwell noted.
The panel is expected to consider her nomination during the chamber’s upcoming work session this fall.
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