United States: Autonomous Commercial Vehicles Closer To Hitting The Road After New Developments

Lawrence Hamilton II is a Partner in the Jacksonville office

Joel Roberson is a Partner and David Whitestone is Government Section Leader in the Washington D.C. office


  • The release of new federal guidance on autonomous vehicles, as well as the recent consideration of federal autonomous vehicle legislation in Congress, increases the likelihood that the introduction of autonomous commercial vehicles (ACVs), including commercial trucks, on our nation's highways is drawing closer to fruition.
  • However, the SELF DRIVE Act as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives creates a new regulatory pathway for autonomous passenger vehicles only. The Teamsters, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and other labor unions and groups have publicly opposed the inclusion of ACVs in the draft legislation due to the potential impact on the more than 3 million U.S. truck drivers.
  • Although many powerful groups oppose the inclusion of ACVs in any federal legislation or regulations enabling self-driving vehicles, proponents of ACVs – including safety organizations, truck manufacturers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and other large companies – also have considerable clout. Proponents tout safety and also argue that including ACVs will benefit the economy and lead to the creation of new jobs.

Autonomous passenger vehicles are coming, that is clear. The question is whether autonomous commercial trucks will join them or follow later. Earlier, we reported on the likelihood that our cars will eventually be sharing the road with autonomous trucks. (See Holland & Knight's alert, " Buckle Up: Autonomous Commercial Vehicles are Coming to a Road Near You," July 24, 2017.) Since then, much has happened, including the release of new federal guidance on autonomous vehicles and debate by Congress of federal autonomous vehicle legislation.

Recent Developments

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), "highly automated vehicles (HAVs) are those in which the vehicle can take full control of the driving tasks in at least some circumstances. HAVs hold enormous potential benefits for safety, mobility, and sustainability." The FMCSA has expressed support for the development and use of autonomous cars and commercial vehicles, and Congress has recently taken up the issue by considering legislation that would 1) grant exemptions permitting automakers to deploy a significant number of self-driving vehicles under an exemption to existing safety standards, 2) continue to pre-empt state and local laws related to the design, construction or performance of HAVs, 3) require manufacturers to file safety assessments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and 4) direct NHTSA to issue regulations to accommodate the future development and deployment of HAVs.

The U.S. House of Representatives, on Sept. 6, 2017, unanimously passed bipartisan HAV legislation, known as the SELF DRIVE Act (Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act), through the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the full House floor. That legislation, which has not yet been adopted by the Senate, would amend the definitions contained in Section 30102 of Title 49, United States Code, to include definitions for "highly automated vehicle," "automated driving systems," "dynamic driving task" and other definitions relevant to the development and use of autonomous vehicles.

However, the SELF DRIVE Act as passed by the House covers only passenger vehicles. The Teamsters, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and other labor unions and groups have publicly opposed the inclusion of autonomous commercial trucks in the draft legislation due to the potential impact this technology might have on the more than 3 million truck drivers in the U.S. Specifically, the House's SELF DRIVE Act specifically excludes "commercial motor vehicles" from the definition of "highly automated vehicles." In addition to the concerns of the labor unions, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which wrote the bill, does not have jurisdiction over FMCSA, so the House avoided the issue to avoid a jurisdictional dispute that might slow or kill the bill. As a consequence, autonomous commercial trucks exceeding 10,000 pounds, as well as vehicles carrying more than 10 occupants, are not authorized by the House legislation.

On the other hand, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has indicated that he prefers to include commercial vehicles in the Senate bill. Although earlier versions of the Senate autonomous vehicle bill included autonomous passenger and commercial vehicles, the language on commercial vehicles of more than 10,000 pounds was dropped from the bill while negotiations continue. On Sept. 13, 2017, the Senate Commerce Committee publicly debated "the benefits of automated truck safety technology as well as the potential impacts on jobs and the economy" in a hearing that included law enforcement, trucking companies, safety groups and labor unions. It has been reported that the Senate Commerce Committee will consider its autonomous vehicle legislation on Oct. 4, 2017.

Potential Impact

By way of background, approximately 250 million vehicles are registered in the U.S., 10 million of which are freight vehicles (two-plus axles, six-plus tires). And approximately 3.5 million persons operate commercial vehicles on a daily basis, not including millions more who operate smaller commercial vehicles such as local delivery and parcel trucks. On top of those numbers, the larger trucking economy – including cargo brokers, truck manufacturers, truck stop employees, etc. – accounts for an additional 4 million jobs, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

It seems axiomatic that implementation of autonomous commercial vehicles (ACVs) will impact employment in the industry. However, the potential loss of jobs due to ACVs is a particularly complex issue because the shortage of truck drivers is a chronic – and worsening – problem facing the transportation industry. According to the ATA, although truck tonnage has increased substantially over the past decade, the number of people entering the job market to drive trucks is decreasing. Thus, the ATA has estimated that there are 48,000 open jobs in the transportation industry and that there could be a shortage of 174,500 drivers by 2024. In the near-term, some believe that autonomous features will improve the safety of operating commercial vehicles without replacing drivers and may attract younger candidates to fill the job shortage. However, the shortage pales in comparison to the number of commercial trucking jobs that could eventually be at risk if fully autonomous ACVs displace commercial drivers. This potential loss of jobs is a major reason why the inclusion of commercial vehicles in the self-driving vehicle legislation is so hotly debated.

One of the senators leading the Commerce Committee's bipartisan effort to pass autonomous vehicle legislation, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), has adamantly opposed the inclusion of trucks in the draft bill due to concerns about worker displacement. In addition, truck drivers and groups that represent their interests have been vocal in expressing concern about the potential loss of jobs and have opposed any legislation that would authorize autonomous commercial vehicles. Previously, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao also stated that she was "very concerned" about the impact of self-driving vehicles on U.S. jobs.

Safety Benefits and Other Considerations

However, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has embraced the safety benefits that autonomous vehicles can provide, noting that "Ninety-four percent of serious motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. are due to dangerous choices or errors people make on the road." Thus, on Sept. 12, 2017, the NHTSA released voluntary guidance with respect to the development and regulation of HAVs. The new 36-page document, "Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0" replaces the September 2016 NHTSA guidance issued by the Obama Administration. The updated document offers voluntary guidance to car manufacturers and emphasizes the primary regulatory role of the federal government.

The NHTSA's voluntary guidance includes all vehicles under the agency's jurisdiction: both passenger vehicles and commercial trucks. However, the guidance does not cover the use of ACVs, motor carrier operations or commercial truck drivers, which are under the jurisdiction of the FMCSA. Currently, under applicable Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), a trained commercial driver must be behind the wheel at all times, regardless of any automated driving technologies, unless a waiver or exemption has been granted by the FMCSA.

Although many powerful groups are actively opposing the inclusion of ACVs in any federal legislation or regulations enabling self-driving vehicles, proponents of ACVs – including truck manufacturers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and other large companies – likewise have considerable clout. Proponents tout safety and also argue that including commercial vehicles will benefit the economy and inevitably lead to the creation of new positions and jobs. In addition, proponents also argue that there is the potential for ACVs and "platooning" (i.e., the operation of ACVs in a convoy) to reduce road congestion and save fuel. Also, there is expected to be an ongoing need for human involvement and intervention, such as to handle refueling, tire blowouts and breakdowns, assist with unloading and interact with customers.

Ultimately, safety considerations will likely bring the issue of ACVs to the forefront. In 2012, there were 300,000 collisions involving trucks, of which nearly 3,500 involved a fatality and 73,000 involved injuries. Although many of those accidents were not the fault of truck drivers, when fully developed, autonomous technologies such as improved sensors, automated braking, blind-spot warnings, as well as other innovations in trucks and passenger vehicles, are expected to override driver error and reduce the number and severity of accidents involving trucks. Thus, over time, ACVs are expected to be safer and lead to fewer accidents and fatalities. Indeed, prominent highway safety groups, such as the National Safety Council and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, have argued for ACV inclusion in federal legislation, noting that, absent specific statutory authority to regulate, ACV development may be governed only by voluntary guidance.

Although politics are in play, and many technical and other issues remain to be solved before fully autonomous commercial vehicles will be operating on our roads without drivers, sharing the road with autonomous vehicles – including commercial trucks – is inevitable. As we previously recommended, prepare to buckle up.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Foley & Lardner
Holland & Knight
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Foley & Lardner
Holland & Knight
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions