Macomb County, MI — In their approach to automation policies, congressional leaders should apply the same “safety-first approach” to all modes without picking favorites, according to a new Macomb Daily op-ed by State Rep. John Chirkun (D-Roseville).

Chirkun, who serves as minority vice-chair of the Michigan House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, commends leaders in Congress for their work on a framework for federal regulation of “highly automated vehicles,” and argues that other modes should be given similar consideration.

“Autonomous vehicles may transform our entire way of life, so it’s important to get this right — to allow for innovation while also setting robust testing requirements and ensuring safety. This is particularly important here in Michigan, where the auto industry is such a large part of our economy. Without federal standards, automakers will be forced to try and navigate all sorts of varying and potentially conflicting state standards, which will slow progress.

While focus to date has been on cars and trucks, the same safety-first approach leaders like Sen. Peters are taking toward automated vehicles on highways also makes sense for other modes of transportation, like railroads.”

Highlighting freight rail’s strong safety record, use of new technologies and the fact that railroads operate on a closed network,  Chirkun writes “it just makes sense that federal policies on automation allow rail the same sort of flexibility on innovation envisioned for motor carriers and passenger vehicles.”

Allowing highway freight to innovate while hamstringing railroads exacerbates an already uneven playing field — as railroads are privately owned and funded but heavy trucks operate over taxpayer-funded roads and bridges — and will result in even more freight on overburdened roads and bridges.

As a former officer in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department and a former city council member, I value public safety first and foremost. I also know well how infrastructure quality shapes our lives, but I also know that eliminating onerous regulations that inhibit innovation is good for safety, good for efficiency and good for consumers. And that’s something we should be working toward.”

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