• September 6th, 2017

The House passed a major self-driving-vehicle bill Wednesday. But a big unanswered question remains: what to do about commercial trucks.

Driverless trucks are seen as one of the most promising — and fraught — elements of the coming autonomous future on U.S. roads. Convoys of robo-trucks guided across the country by a single human driver — or none at all — could become a major economic force. They could be a boon to safety, or a particularly potent hazard, opposing advocates say. And so lawmakers seeking bipartisan backing for the Self Drive Act made clear that their definition of a “highly automated vehicle . . . does not include a commercial motor vehicle,” as the legislation puts it.

That means it doesn’t cover trucks bigger than 10,000 pounds, or vehicles meant to carry more than 10 passengers or hazardous materials. The bill blocks states from regulating “the design, construction, or performance” of automated vehicles, clarifying that such power is in federal hands. Many technology and car companies have warned that state legislators are leaving behind a “patchwork” of regulations that could dampen innovation and thwart travelers crossing state lines.