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Federal safety agency warming to automated safety features in heavy-duty trucks

Agency will collaborate with industry to increase education and speed adoption

Administrator Ray Martinez of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration addresses the American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exposition on Oct. 5. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is working with the trucking industry to educate small fleets and owner-operators about advanced driver assistance systems that could reduce crashes and fatalities.

Ray Martinez, the agency administrator, announced the collaboration during remarks covering several areas on Oct. 5, at the American Trucking Association’s Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego.

“There are real benefits here,” Martinez told FreightWaves after his address. “You’re kind of missing the boat if you don’t adopt it.”

Daimler Trucks North America, Volvo Trucks North America and several suppliers offer partially automated safety features on their newest models. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is funding a two-year program to monitor the effectiveness of technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning.

“We want to see that adoption is actually occurring,” Martinez asked.  

The FMCSA is working with the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the ATA and its Technology & Maintenance Council.   

Teen truckers

Martinez also promoted a pilot program allowing 18-to-20-year olds with military transportation background to qualify as interstate truck drivers. Those under 21 are allowed to drive big rigs intrastate but prohibited from crossing state borders.

“We believe these will be very safe drivers,” Martinez said, adding that he hopes to expand the pool of potential drivers by tapping military and National Guard reservists. 

John Stomps, president and CEO of Total Transportation of Mississippi, said he hired four 18-year-olds and put each through 640 hours of training between September 2018 and this February. All four, including one military reservist, are working out. 

“We need to create our own drivers of the future,” Stomps told FreightWaves.”I firmly believe programs like this is how we are going to do it.”

The ATA wants to address the shortage of long-haul, for-hire drivers by including non-military 18-to-20-year-olds who would need at least 400 hours of training. If passed, bills pending in both the U.S. House and Senate would make this possible.

The Drive Safe Act stalled in Congress in 2018 opposition from safety groups, the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Opponents point to the age group having less experience and being at greater risk for crashes.

Hours of service proposal

The FMCSA so far has received 2,000 comments on its proposed changes to hours-of-service regulations, Martinez said. The comment period closes Oct. 21. The deadline was extended to allow associations to submit data-backed responses that would address:

  •  Increasing the short-haul exemption from 100 to 150 air miles and the driving day from 12 to 14 hours
  •  Adding flexibility to the 30-minute break requirement
  • Adding an option for a driver to split the mandatory 10-hour off-duty or sleeping time into blocks of seven and three hours in addition to the current eight and two hours
  • Allowing an off-duty break of up to three hours, extending from 14 to 17 hours the allowable driving time in a day, if the driver takes 10 consecutive off-duty hours. 

Martinez acknowledged the proposed rules could face court challenges.

“One of the things we can do in the event that occurs is to make sure the process we are using is as transparent as possible, as inclusive as possible,” he said.” And we have done that. We have included voices from every group, every interest area.”


  1. Stephen Webster

    The automatic braking systems have put many truck drivers in wheelchairs in Canada in the winter time. The current systems are not safe. One tanker truck company has disconnected them in their new trucks that came with them in the last 2 years after two of their trucks went the ditch. The solution is better training for the drivers and a on off switch on the braking systems.

  2. Russell Rode

    Automated braking is dangerous in wet and icy conditions and will obviously cause wrecks due to the fact (1)that the brakes lock up under some bridges. (2) 4wheelers change lanes WAY,WAY too close in front of trucks

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.