WASHINGTON — Kentucky has positioned itself as a major transportation and supply chain hub, facilitating the movement of 275 million tons of freight on its roads each week. To maintain this momentum, Kentucky must set itself up for future success and embrace the role advanced technology will play in how goods move and are distributed. The natural next step to grow the commonwealth’s economic leadership is to advance legislation that supports safe autonomous vehicle (AV) deployment. HB 7 would establish a robust regulatory framework for AVs to safely test and operate in Kentucky.
AV technology is equipped with next-generation advancements, such as radar, lidar, cameras, and 360-degree vision, and programmed to be a model driver. For example, one company found its AVs demonstrated an 85% reduction in injury-causing crash rates and a 57% reduction in police-reported crash rates. AVs are designed to remove human driving errors — like speeding, texting while driving, fatigue and impairment from drugs and alcohol. This exciting development will make roads safer at a time when Kentucky lost more than 750 residents last year alone.
In addition to increasing road safety, AVs can bolster the commonwealth’s economy and thrive together with truck drivers. Kentucky boasts a robust manufacturing sector, and companies like Amazon, UPS, and DHL rely on Kentucky’s strategic location, allowing them to reach two-thirds of the U.S. population within a day’s drive. By meeting growing freight needs, autonomous trucks can increase delivery speeds, open new geographic markets and improve fuel savings while hauling deliveries to warehouses and businesses.
It is critical to note that as autonomous trucks roll out, truck drivers are a vital part of the U.S. economy. Our supply chain has been challenged in recent years, and as a country we must find a way to move ever increasing amounts of freight with fewer people to do it. Specifically, federal data estimates that U.S. freight volume will increase by 50% by 2050. At the same time, the country faces a truck driver shortage of nearly 80,000 drivers that is set to double by 2031. Autonomous trucks will augment – not replace – the current workforce and coexist with America’s truck drivers, thereby supporting the $34.4 billion worth of Kentucky-made goods annually. Furthermore, research from the U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed that AV trucks will spur $111 billion in investment spending, create up to 35,000 jobs each year, and raise earnings for all workers. AV companies are already creating new jobs, employing truck drivers to support testing and development as well as terminal operators, fleet and vehicle technicians, remote assistance specialists, dispatchers, mapping experts, engineers, and more.
Moreover, AV technology also provides new accessibility for people with disabilities, senior citizens, and Kentucky residents living in transportation deserts. Wider adoption of AVs increases the annual vehicle miles traveled by seniors, persons with disabilities and nondrivers, providing a new sense of independence and increasing access to education, work opportunities and more.
Twenty-three states have already passed legislation authorizing AV operation. Kentucky’s AV legislation lays out critical safety regulations, requires compliance with all traffic laws, mandates crash reporting, and requires companies to have a law enforcement interaction plan. The Bluegrass State has made big strides in infrastructure investment in recent years. Kentucky should seize this massive opportunity and pass AV legislation for a boosted supply chain, safer roads, new jobs and more accessible transportation across the Commonwealth.
Jeff Farrah is the chief executive officer of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.