On Wednesday, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) President Larry Willis urged the Senate Commerce Committee to exempt commercial vehicles from a new driverless car bill after they held an open hearing on the matter.
While Willis thanked the committee for providing the hearing, he also cautioned against “moving too hastily and putting millions of jobs and lives at risk.”
With millions of Americans employed in commercial driving jobs, Congress would be foolish not to heed Willis’ warning. Automation could revolutionize commercial driving in a way that benefits both employers and working people, but only if applied thoughtfully and regulated deliberately. Anything less will violently disrupt one of the largest employment sectors in the country, putting millions out of work at a time when many families are still recovering from the Great Recession and the economy is still fragile.
We need only look around the country for examples of what happens when industries collapse. We have seen the devastation of closed mines and relocated factories, and the communities that suffer when working people lose their livelihoods. The upending of the commercial driving industry would have the same effect, but on a grand scale.
Commercial drivers are integral members of communities across America, in big cities and small towns, red and blue states. Rushing through new legislation without considering the effects on the commercial driving workforce will not just rattle one community; it will rattle the entire country. It is a dangerous game, one that will not be played out on the floor of Congress but in households from from Boston to Boise, from Los Angeles to Louisiana. Willis’ calls for care and caution are not protectionism, as some might argue, but a call to reason.
The Senate Commerce Committee has an imperative to work in the best interest of the American people, and until there has been a full dialogue between industry leaders, working people and lawmakers, new legislation concerning commercial vehicles and driverless technology will prove to be irresponsibly inadequate. Congress ought to reexamine the issue once the implications are clear, but until then Larry Willis and TTD are right: for the sake of working people and the economy, commercial vehicles must be exempt from its driverless car bill. The threat of disrupting the commercial driving industry is currently too great, and too unknown, to risk.