Arkansas Trucking Association

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The Last Word

To Save Lives and Create Jobs

By James Reed

I think there are two immutable facts about autonomous vehicles (AVs). First, and most importantly, they will save lives. Second, they are no longer a few years out —AVs are on American roadways every single day. Driverless robotaxis from Waymo and Cruise drive the streets of San Francisco carrying paid customers 24/7; Waymo partnered with the NFL to offer rides to Super Bowl fans in Phoenix; and fully-loaded class 8 trucks deliver freight across the southern half of the U.S. daily.

Trucking industry leaders saw this revolution coming. Over the last three years, the trucking industry’s interest in AV trucks has grown significantly, with most of the country’s biggest fleets piloting the technology. Leading Arkansas companies, including Tyson, Walmart, J. B. Hunt, and my former company, USA Truck, have been on the forefront of testing. These companies are doing the hard work of preparing their freight and logistics for this self-driving future by ensuring they have experience and a view on the technology.

My own career reflects the trucking industry’s increasing focus on AVs. After six years as CEO of USA Truck and 12 years leading transportation companies, I knew I wanted to help change the world for good and influence the lives of everyday Americans in my next role. We are facing a safety crisis on American highways. In 2022, the U.S. saw roughly 43,000 traffic deaths. Nearly 14% of those crashes involved a truck, and one in three long-haul truck drivers is involved in a serious crash in their lifetimes. In the vast majority of those cases, the professional truck driver was not at fault. Ours is a unique opportunity to use new technologies to help save lives. With safety and societal impact as my focus, in late 2022 I decided to accept a new role as COO of Kodiak Robotics, a leading AV truck developer.

The economic need for AVs is nearly as acute as the safety case. While truck drivers are the lifeblood of the American economy, the reality is that the trucking industry simply cannot find enough drivers to meet ever-rising freight demand. The American Trucking Associations estimates the driver shortage to be at 80,000 drivers and rising: that shortage is why a recent USDOT-funded study shows that AV trucks will grow the economy and create jobs. Autonomous technology stands poised to help augment - not replace - the professional driver by providing safe, flexible and fungible capacity to the existing pool of America's remarkable men and women who drive for a living.

The potential safety and economic benefits of this technology are why 23 states, including Arkansas, have passed laws creating regulatory frameworks for AVs, and many more states have implemented other types of regulations for AV testing and deployment.

While allowing for the development of this technology is critical, it’s also important that safeguards are in place to ensure the safety of America’s motoring public. Thankfully, there is an almost unprecedented level of oversight into AVs at both a state and federal level. Since mid-2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation has required AV developers to publicly report any on-road incident that so much as scratches a bumper, so that it can take necessary action to protect the public. Thankfully, few bumpers have been scratched: as of this writing, there have only been 15 incidents involving autonomous trucks, all but one of which were the fault of roadway debris or other vehicles and none of which resulted in a significant injury.

So we have a critical need for this technology both to save lives and protect the American economy, and yet in 2023, organized labor decided to take the unprecedented step of demanding a flat ban on AV trucks in seven states. While these efforts received little attention in most states, an AV truck ban passed the legislature in labor-friendly California. Thankfully, Governor Newsom chose to veto the bill to prevent it from becoming law. More bills will likely be considered next year across the country. The adoption of these bills would put lives at risk by banning potentially life-saving technology, while hurting American economic competitiveness and ultimately killing jobs.

I know how hard truck drivers work and how critical they are to our economy. I also know that we sometimes ask a lot of drivers, including long days and weeks on the road. Rather than fight the future, we in the trucking industry should oppose knee-jerk efforts to ban AV trucks. Instead, we have a unique opportunity to partner with regulators and labor to implement these life-saving new technologies and ensure their adoption works for everyone. And as a proud 4th generation Arkansan, I am thrilled that Arkansas, like much of the South, is leading the way on the safe deployment of this critical technology.

James Reed is the COO of Kodiak Robotics and former CEO of USA Truck.

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Suite 185
Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 372-3462 | Phone
(501) 376-1810 | Fax

Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
  • SERVE our members to help them to grow their business and their profits
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