February 02, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Norton Statements from Hearing on Automated Vehicles

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during today’s hearing titled, “The Road Ahead for Automated Vehicles.”

Video of DeFazio and Norton’s opening statements are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding this important hearing on automated vehicles.

To some, AVs are a new, far-fetched technology. To a degree, this is true. But in more and more cases, AVs are already here. A company called TuSimple reported that they just completed the first automated truck run on public roads without a human in the vehicle and without human intervention. Waymo has been operating a robotaxi service in Phoenix since October 2020. According to DOT, there are over 1,400 automated vehicles currently in testing by more than 80 companies across 36 states. I had the privilege to ride in an automated Waymo vehicle in California a few years ago.

AVs have the potential to bring significant benefits to the traveling public and reduce deaths on our roadways.

In 2019, an astounding 36,096 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes on U.S. roadways. And traffic deaths have risen even higher during the pandemic. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 20,160 people died in traffic crashes during the first half of 2021—that’s the highest number of fatalities in that time period since 2006. Bicyclist and pedestrian deaths have increased by 50 percent since 2009. So not only are our roads dangerous, but they are getting worse for our most vulnerable road users. 

In order to reap the safety benefits of AVs, regulators must do their part to hold industry accountable in this process and ensure that AVs deliver on their promise of safer roads. We know what can happen when regulators let industry go unchecked. The 737 MAX tragedy was the result of Boeing’s corporate greed and a lax safety culture within the FAA.

We cannot make the same mistakes with automated vehicles. Safety—for all road users—should be our number one priority. We cannot cut corners in the name of expediency or convenience.

The deployment of AVs also stands to have tremendous impacts on the surface transportation workforce. As we begin to craft AV policy, labor must have a seat at the table to ensure that transportation workers can do their jobs safely, particularly as truck drivers and transit operators share the road with AVs.

As regulators work to hold automated trucks and buses to the highest safety standards, they must rely on the expertise of the men and women who operate these vehicles today. Professional commercial drivers have a deep well of knowledge on operating conditions on our roads, and must be part of the safe transition to advanced technologies. 

The workforce implications to commercial drivers is another reason Congress should give special consideration to commercial AV policy, separate from ongoing work on passenger AVs.

I have fought for years to enact policy changes that make the job of a commercial truck driver safer and more sustainable. As automated commercial truck and bus deployment becomes closer to reality, Congress needs to consider policies to support these hard-working men and women and ensure that trucking remains a good career option.

Too often, American workers have been left behind when technologies evolve and corporate interests are left in charge of the way forward. Regulators and innovators need to work together to make safe automated vehicles and a stable, well-paid transportation workforce a reality in the future.   

I thank each of the witnesses assembled here today, and I look forward to this important discussion.


Chair Norton:

Welcome to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit’s hearing on the future of automated vehicles, known as AVs. Today, we will examine the effects of the adoption and deployment of AVs on roadway safety, infrastructure and the commercial driving workforce. We will also consider this committee’s role and responsibility overseeing AV deployment to ensure that the highest possible safety standards are met and that all Americans have access to high-quality, family-wage transportation jobs.

Automated vehicles are on the cusp of transforming our transportation system. AVs, including commercial trucks and buses, are those in which at least some aspect of a safety-critical control function occurs without direct driver input. Some can themselves perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment. This technology presents both opportunities and threats.

Nationwide, we are experiencing a startling rise in fatalities among drivers and other road users. AVs have the potential to drastically reduce deaths on our roadways by reducing traffic crashes caused by human behavior. Still, safety benefits must be carefully weighed against risk, especially when deploying commercial and passenger-carrying AVs. We have seen disastrous consequences when automation technology is deployed haphazardly. To maximize the road safety impact of AVs, we must ensure that these technologies are held to the highest possible safety standards. Such standards must consider the safety of all road users who interact with AVs, including pedestrians and cyclists and those who scoot and use wheelchairs, which is especially critical in urban areas like the District of Columbia.

AVs must also be integrated into our transportation system in a manner that respects America’s commercial driving workforce. AVs could significantly improve working conditions for commercial drivers and increase on-the-job safety. But eliminating the need for a human driver could also result in widespread job displacement if the needs of workers are not prioritized at the outset. Employer transparency, comprehensive regulations and oversight of AV deployment will be required to create and preserve high-quality, family-wage jobs and good working conditions for Americans whose livelihoods depend on driving. 

Thank you to each of our witnesses for being here today and offering your unique insights. I look forward to a lively discussion and hearing what our committee can do to maximize the benefits that AVs aim to deliver.