Chairman Crawford Opening Statement from Hearing on Automated Commercial Motor Vehicles
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR) from today’s hearing, entitled “The Future of Automated Commercial Motor Vehicles: Impacts on Society, the Supply Chain, and U.S. Economic Leadership”:
Much of the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s activities this year have focused on efforts to address the Nation’s supply chain crisis, and rightly so.
The pandemic exposed the fragility of our supply chain. Labor shortages and shutdowns – most notably of cities, factories, and manufacturing hubs in China – as well as demand changes, decimated our logistics system and economy. And the Administration has only pushed policies that have led to historic levels of inflation and sky-high gas prices, further exacerbating the supply chain problem and pain in our pocketbooks.
As part of our efforts, we have received testimony and considered proposals to strengthen our supply chain, in part by addressing the unprecedented challenges facing our Nation’s trucking industry and truck drivers. This subcommittee understands that truck drivers are critical to our supply chain and economy as a whole. They provide the necessary connectivity between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains, and planes.
Over 8.7 million commercial motor vehicle drivers operate in the United States, traveling billions of miles each year, serving every community in our country. In fact, more than 70 percent of our Nation’s freight tonnage is moved by the trucking industry every year, and more than 80 percent of our communities get their goods exclusively by trucks – despite the fact that we have an estimated shortage of 78,000 truck drivers today.
Workforce needs are only expected to continue to be a challenge – it’s estimated 1.2 million new drivers will need to be recruited over the next decade to keep pace with growing demand and an aging workforce.
Therefore, it is fitting that we are holding this hearing in the middle of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, as we celebrate these valued professionals who work, every day, to deliver products to every community in the country. During our hearing today, we will explore the benefits realized from the deployment of automated commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).
First, autonomous trucks can increase safety on our Nation’s roadways and save lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 42,795 people died in all motor vehicle accidents in 2022.
Despite the great progress we have made over the years incorporating safety features in all vehicles and infrastructure, strengthening traffic safety laws and reinforcing them with public and driver education, and improving health care outcomes, traffic fatalities have not fallen below 2014’s rate of 1.08 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.
The good news is that we know the major source of these crashes – a whopping 94 percent of serious crashes – are due to driver factors, such as speeding or driving while fatigued, impaired, or distracted.
Autonomous vehicle (AV) trucks, like AV cars, help us with anticipating road dangers and mitigating or removing human error from the chain of events that lead to a crash, thereby reducing the number of accidents caused by human error. In addition, autonomous trucks can strengthen our supply chain.
Arkansas’s own Tyson Foods just announced last week that it’s partnering with Gatik AI in a multi-year collaboration to deploy refrigerated box trucks in Northwest Arkansas to support fast product movement, ensure supply chain continuity, and guard against continued workforce shortages.
AV trucks can increase the efficiency and productivity of logistics and transportation operations and enable route optimization, which in turn, would reduce delivery times. They can improve fleet utilization and efficiencies. Productivity and operations savings result in lower fleet rates that could be passed onto consumers and provide solutions to supply chain bottlenecks.
Autonomous trucks also could help address environmental concerns and improve air quality. Roadway capacity increases, less congestion, and fewer crashes would result in reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions.
In addition, this can improve the quality of life for truck drivers, as it makes driving a big rig less stressful, more enjoyable, and safer. The improvement in a driver’s quality of life will help attract new employees to join the industry, which is desperately needed.
AV deployment also will create new, high-paying jobs in the trucking industry. We need to incorporate employee development and training programs to upskill our workforce so they can take advantage of new jobs that AVs will create. And while I remain confident about the potential for this technology, I also am confident that if you choose to become a truck driver today, you will have the ability to retire as a truck driver.
While there are many autonomous trucks operating with safety drivers on the road today in certain parts of the country, there is still a long way to go before we reach full commercial deployment.
There are also some issues that need to be considered as this expensive technology is safely integrated into existing fleets. For example, we need to discuss if any rules and regulations at the federal level need to change to reflect that a driver may not always be in the cab, such as how trucks can continue to be safely inspected.
While many have called for a federal regulatory framework, such a framework should not be overly prescriptive, but instead create guardrails for the industry to grow with safety at the forefront. We must avoid stifling innovation as the technology develops, and striking this balance is vital for America to continue its global competitive edge in this industry.
Make no mistake, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the biggest geopolitical threat our country faces, is moving aggressively into this space. The CCP will scheme to use the power of their State-Owned Enterprises to undercut American businesses and manipulate the market.
I look forward to hearing from today’s panel of stakeholders, who offer a unique perspective on the benefits of autonomous trucks, and how AV truck technology is developed, brought to market, and safely incorporated into existing transportation companies and networks.
Click here for more information from today’s hearing, including video and witness testimony.