Missouri Governor Vetoes Platoon Program; Comparing Apples to Oranges?

House Bill 1733 History

Earlier this month, Missouri Governor Jeremiah W. Nixon vetoed HB 1773- a bill that if passed would have authorized the Highways and Transportation Commission to promulgate administrative rules to lead to the establishment of a six-year connected vehicles technology testing program and would have allowed the platooning of two vehicles. (Platooning 101 click here: Platooning Basics Blog Post)

House Bill 1733 was approved by the Missouri General Assembly by a landslide when the House approved the bill 107-42 and the Senate approved 32-0. Notably, opposition to the bill was expressed by a well-connected-political group prior to the passing of the General Assembly. The bill also has a substantial amount of support throughout the industry- specifically from Robert Bishop, the chairman of the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force of the American Trucking Associations and also of the Technology & Maintenance Council task force. Additionally, James Pflum, assistant resident engineer of Missouri Department of Transportation offered his support of the vetoed bill.

As expected, Governor Nixon’s veto of the bill came as a shock to many and has raised concerns about whether Nixon’s motivations behind the veto were motivated by personal political gain.

Behind the Veto

In a letter explaining Nixon’s veto, he specifically referenced a fatal accident involving a self-driving Tesla car as an example of the danger automated driving technology could pose. To someone who is unfamiliar with the technology at issue, Nixon’s safety concerns may appear to be warranted.

However, those well versed in the technology at issue are not sold since there are significant differences between the self-driving Tesla car and the platooning technology presented in the vetoed bill thus making it a meritless comparison to many.  This turned a large number of industry members’ attention to the Governor’s office.

Comparison: Self-Driving Tesla Car vs. Truck Platooning System

Many, including Robert Bishop, have come forward with their disappointment in the governor’s actions. Recently (in this article: Veto a Mistake), Bishop was reported stating that “they’re completely different”, referring to the platooning systems of the heavy trucks vs. beta-testing autopilot system in the Tesla.  Those for heavy trucks are not nearly automated as the system that allowed a Tesla to run under a semi-trailer that was turning in front of the fast-moving sedan, killing its driver.

Instead, Bishop insists that “first generation truck platooning systems are not automated. The system only controls the pedals and leaves the steering and monitoring of the road to the drivers of the two connected trucks. It does not remove the need for a driver to be present in the trucks- despite opposition group’s contentions. Autopilot systems, such as Tesla’s, automate steering, braking, and acceleration, allowing drivers to disengage from driving — hands-off, feet-off, and eyes-off.”

While the industry does not deny that there are legitimate safety questions about autopilots and driver responsibility, Bishop further asserts that these “[safety] questions don’t apply to truck platooning. While platooning, the driver experience is basically the same as with today’s adaptive cruise control systems, but at inter-vehicle distances of 50-100 feet…..platoon-enabled trucks will likely be safer than most other trucks on the road, even when not platooning,” Bishop said.

Future of the Bill

Missouri law provides for this bill to be returned to the General Assembly where a two-thirds vote of both houses will be required to override the veto. If the General Assembly votes consistently, the bill will likely go through despite Nixon’s veto….but you never know what will happen in an election year.

Emily Littlefield is an associate attorney at Roberts Perryman. Emily’s practice focuses on transportation, insurance coverage and defense.

Emily Littlefield

Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL. http://www.robertsperryman.com

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