Union cheers as trucks kept out of U.S. self-driving legislation

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Teamsters union on Friday praised House lawmakers for keeping self-driving commercial trucks out of a proposed bill aimed at speeding deployment of the advanced technology for cars.

The U.S. House Energy and Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would hasten the use of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles. The measure only applies to vehicles under 10,000 pounds and not large commercial trucks.

The 1.4-million-member union, hoping to protect the jobs of truck drivers, has been lobbying at the federal and state levels to slow legislation to make it easier for companies to roll out self-driving trucks.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said she is “very concerned” about the impact of self-driving cars on U.S. jobs, a big part of President Donald Trump’s campaign message.

“It is vital that Congress ensure that any new technology is used to make transportation safer and more effective, not used to put workers at risk on the job or destroy livelihoods,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said in a statement, adding the union wants more changes in the House measure.

Teamsters officials have been involved in talks with Senate aides, seeking to exclude commercial trucks from a similar bill setting federal regulations for autonomous vehicles, lobbyists said. The Senate proposal has not been made public yet.

The House bill would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

Auto industry leaders have said 3 million commercial truck jobs could eventually be at risk if self-driving vehicles replaced human drivers.

Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit Waymo is working on developing self-driving trucks, the company said last month.

Other companies have also been working on self-driving trucks. Ride services company Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] is working on autonomous trucking through its Otto unit, which it acquired last year.

Tesla Inc, which is working on self-driving technologies, plans to unveil a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi in September.

The Teamsters have opposed efforts by states to approve plans by logistics companies to use platooning technology that could reduce driver jobs by allowing a pack of trucks to be digitally connected and driven in formation.

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens approved a revised platooning measure this year that requires a driver in the cab of each truck. His predecessor Jay Nixon vetoed platoon testing last year.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio