Col. Scott G. Hernandez Testifies Before Senate Commerce Committee on “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways”

On Sept. 13, 2017, Col. Scott G. Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol, testified on behalf of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and the commercial motor vehicle enforcement community at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways.”

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the committee, convened the hearing aimed at examining the benefits of automated truck safety technology as well as the potential impacts on jobs and the economy. Including or excluding trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles has been a topic of discussion in ongoing bipartisan efforts to draft self-driving vehicle legislation.

“Self-driving technology for trucks and other large vehicles has emerged as a pivotal issue in Congress’ attempt to help usher in a new era of transportation,” said Sen. Thune. The hearing was designed to allow “all members of the Commerce Committee with the opportunity to hear expert testimony on the future highway safety benefits of applying automated technology to trucks as well as perspectives on excluding trucks from legislation affecting small passenger vehicles.”

During his testimony, Col. Hernandez urged the members of the committee, “As this Committee moves forward with legislation setting a national framework to guide the deployment of autonomous vehicles, we believe that consideration must be given to the commercial motor vehicle industry.”

He posed several questions and concerns on behalf of the law enforcement community, stressing that the purpose of those questions was not to slow innovation or create roadblocks to the technology.

“The enforcement community recognizes the safety benefits and welcomes any change that improves roadway safety. However, we must ensure that inspectors and industry understand the role this technology will play and how it will impact commercial motor vehicle enforcement programs. We strongly encourage you to consider all facets of the issue, including what to do once the vehicles are on the roads. Doing so will help avoid uncertainty for the motor carrier industry and the enforcement community.”

Col. Hernandez testified before the committee based on his unique insight into automated trucks and real-world experience with the technology. Last year, the company OTTO approached the state of Colorado expressing interest in conducting an intrastate delivery using an autonomous commercial motor vehicle. Realizing the potential for government and enforcement to learn from the process and in order ensure safety remained paramount, Colorado chose to partner with OTTO on the demonstration.

During the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2016, an autonomous commercial motor vehicle, specifically a three-axle truck-tractor and two-axle semi-trailer vehicle combination, traveled 120 miles from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in a level 4 autonomous demonstration. Soon after entering southbound on I-25 from the Ft. Collins Port of Entry, the driver placed the commercial motor vehicle in autonomous mode and retreated to the space behind and between the driver and passenger seat. The vehicle traveled southbound on I-25 for more than 120 miles until the driver took over the controls and exited the interstate toward the terminal.

To ensure the demonstration was completed safely, the Colorado State Patrol escorted the autonomous commercial motor vehicle (similar to a motorcade or rolling special event), constantly monitoring safety protocols and situational assessment. Constant communication throughout the event existed between the driver/passenger, engineers and state troopers.

“The proof of concept in Colorado indicates that self-driving vehicles will play a critical role in improving

traffic safety and may reduce congestion in the future,” said Col. Hernandez. “The demonstration provided important information and experience to the Colorado State Patrol and our partners responsible for establishing the necessary legal and regulatory framework for the testing and implementation of autonomous vehicle technologies. Technological advances in the past have saved lives and, clearly, technology will continue to save lives in the future as the Colorado State Patrol, CVSA and the law enforcement community moves toward zero deaths on our roadways.”

Other witnesses at the hearing included:

  • Troy Clarke, Chief Executive Officer, Navistar
  • Ken Hall, General Secretary-Treasurer, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • Deborah Hersman, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Safety Council
  • Chris Spear, President and Chief Executive Officer, the American Trucking Associations

“Our experience in Colorado makes it clear that it’s time to begin planning in earnest for the deployment of semi- and fully-automated commercial motor vehicles,” said Col. Hernandez. “While we will still need to work toward total solutions, the Colorado State Patrol made progress toward understanding the perspective of other governmental agencies, autonomous vehicle crash investigations, why cyber security will be essential as this technology progresses, the development of a unique regulatory framework and how to better partner with all stakeholders.”

View Col. Hernandez’s full statement.

View the Sept. 13, 2017, webcast archive.