Home » Bill to permit autonomous vehicles in Kentucky advances to House floor

Bill to permit autonomous vehicles in Kentucky advances to House floor

Kentucky is a major logistics center in the U.S.
Volvo Trucks’ new electric concept vehicle Vera would drive autonomously.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — In an effort to address commercial truck driver shortages and support a growing economy, the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee approved legislation Thursday to allow autonomous vehicles (AVs) to operate in the Commonwealth.

House Bill 7, sponsored by Representative Josh Bray, passed with a committee substitute that featured language requiring a human driver be present in autonomous semi-trucks for the first two years after the bill would take effect, among other technical changes.

A similar bill passed the House and Senate in the 2023 legislative session but fell short of becoming law after Governor Andy Beshear issued a veto.

“These are highly regulated vehicles through the National Transportation Safety Board,” Bray emphasized in his committee presentation. “They have to meet safety specifications the same way airplanes have to meet certain specifications.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association CEO Jeff Farrah said that 23 states have already passed legislation similar to House Bill 7 and that autonomous vehicles would benefit the public in many ways.

“AV’s do not speed. They do not text. They do not drive impaired or fatigued,” Farrah said in his testimony. “Sadly, human drivers do all of those things, contributing to nearly 43,000 American deaths in 2022, according to federal government statistics.”

Those speaking in opposition to House Bill 7 brought up safety concerns, as well as fear that technology would eventually take the jobs of human workers across multiple sectors.

House Bill 7 with House Committee Substitute 1 passed the committee by a vote of 12 yes, 5 no, and one pass vote.

Representative Bray spoke with The Bottom Line last week at the Kentucky Chamber’s inaugural Artificial Intelligence Conference in Lexington, where he also talked about House Bill 7.

“The data shows that they (autonomous vehicles) are about 100% more effective. They’re 10% safer than human drivers are,” Bray said.

“And Kentucky is a logistics hub. If you look at our geographic location, we’ve got I-75 and I-65. We’ve got this massive transportation infrastructure. And with that comes massive opportunities.

“Right now, there’s 80,000 vacancies amongst truck drivers (nationally). We can’t find people to fill them. And so if we can use technology to help augment that, it’s not gonna replace workers. None of this (autonomous) technology we’re talking about is gonna just flat out replace people. It can’t. But we need to make sure we’ve got good sound policies that allow businesses to utilize the technology if they choose. And let the market make these decisions instead of a heavy-handed government bureaucracy.”

—By John Cox, Kentucky Chamber

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