NOVI, MI – Don’t look for a reversal in congressional plans to exclude commercial vehicles from autonomous-vehicle-testing legislation, but that doesn’t mean the big-truck industry will be left out in the cold long-term when it comes to developing driverless vehicles.

That’s the word from Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), speaking to industry engineers and executives here at the TU Automotive ADAS & Autonomous USA 2017 conference.

“Our legislation does not deal with trucks; it does not apply to vehicles over 10,000 lbs. (gross vehicle weight),” Peters says. “(But) that doesn’t mean they won’t be part of it going forward. I think we all realize commercial truck is a key aspect of what’s on our highways and moving our goods and services.”

A version of the autonomous-vehicle testing legislation sailed through a House vote early last month and the Senate introduced its version of the bill last week, where it potentially will undergo change as part of the Senate Commerce Committee markup process under way this week.

“We found that after it passed the House, everybody who had a problem with (the legislation) all descended on the Senate, so we’ve been dealing with a lot of controversy related to lots of aspects of the House version,” Peters says of the bill, later telling WardsAuto he won’t be sure where the sticking points are until the markup process begins Wednesday.

The bill delivers a framework for manufacturers looking to test autonomous vehicles on public roads and requires the Department of Transportation “in an expedited way” to update all safety regulations to account for differences in fully autonomous vehicles, such as the lack of steering wheels and brake pedals.

It prevents states from enacting any legislation that would pre-empt the national regulations and requires manufacturers to issue safety status reports around nine subject areas including vehicle safety systems, data recording, cybersecurity, the human-machine interface, crashworthiness and post-crash behavior.

The legislation expands the cap on the allowed number of experimental self-driving vehicles a manufacturer could put on the road in stages, going from 2,500 vehicles annually today to 50,000, then 75,000 and to 100,000 in three years.

It also creates a technical committee to analyze incoming vehicle data and explore future regulations as automated-driving technology begins to proliferate.

“This is something we’re going to have to grapple with on an ongoing basis,” Peters notes.

Consumer education is another goal of the legislation.

“One thing that we have seen is automobiles could be put out on the road with automated features, and yet the public thinks that car just drives itself down the road,” Peters says. “That’s where accidents occur. Consumers have to know the capabilities of that automobile.

“If we have some high-profile accidents, the consumer blowback that will come to us and other places will be significant and that will put in jeopardy billions of dollars in investment.”

Proposed regulations around commercial-vehicle testing were left out of the bill after a lobbying effort from labor unions contending autonomous-vehicle operation would jeopardize jobs for truck drivers.

Peters acknowledges the labor pressure, but says there are additional reasons to consider commercial vehicles separately.

“We have spent so much time dealing with automobiles over many months…and trucks present a number of (unique) challenges,” he says. “One, it’s their size, and there are different safety aspects related to that. And there’s the employment aspect. These are real things we need to be thinking about. We don’t need to be in a rush.”

Truck manufacturers still can get a 2,500-vehicle road-test exemption, he points out. “And there are fewer trucks on the road than cars, so percentage-wise it’s not that big of a difference.”

Peters says Congress will “move on to (commercial vehicles) next,” adding rules around autonomous trucks could come in a separate piece of legislation.

Asked if that might happen within the next 12 months, Peters says: “It could. We want to be focused on the issues I raised here. So we’re here to get this one (on cars). And a lot of that technology will (be the same) on commercial vehicles, too. So it doesn’t really inhibit that (development of self-driving trucks).”

Peters says autonomous-vehicle technology not only is important for the future of transportation but also will influence other industries.

“The thing that excites me the most…is that self-driving cars is the moonshot for artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he says. “When the car is able to navigate through a very complex city environment and do it safely, that will mean AI has developed to the point where it is going to transform every single industry that we know.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com @DavidZoia