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FMCSA automated trucks project headed to White House

Commenters push back on survey meant to assess opinions of automated driving systems using hands-on demonstrations

CONOPS includes long-distance automated driving tests. (Photo:

Federal regulators are submitting to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) plans for a survey study to assess public appetite for automated driving systems (ADS) in the trucking sector.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the move in a notice to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. The agency emphasized that OMB, an office within White House, must receive any public comments on the proposal 30 days after the notice is published in order for OMB “to act quickly” on the project.

However, the project, Trucking Fleet Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for Managing Mixed Fleets, has already received public pushback. While FMCSA’s initial request for comment in November on the proposal received just eight comments, all were opposed, citing the potential for the loss of truck driving jobs and safety concerns stemming from “real-world” ADS testing before doing enough testing using simulators.

“The people that rely on truck driving jobs will be left unemployed and without a way to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families,” stated one commenter. “There is already a lack of respect and concern for truck drivers. Bringing in autonomous trucks to replace them is truly heartless and unbelievable.”

FMCSA responded that while it appreciated the feedback, “these comments are beyond the scope of this information collection.”

If approved by OMB, a survey questionnaire will be taken before and after participants are given the chance to participate in hands-on experience with ADS trucking technology to assess any change in sentiment. The plan is to provide that experience at four “roadshows” at existing trucking conferences around the country, including the Technology Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting, North American Commercial Vehicle Show, SAE COMVEC and Automated Vehicle Symposium.

“Although [ADS]-equipped trucks hold the promise of increased safety, productivity and efficiency, it is not clear how these vehicles should be integrated into fleet operations with conventional trucks,” asserted the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), which designed the survey questionnaire, in its proposal to the Federal Highway Administration in 2019.

VTTI is part of a team of organizations participating in the four-year CONOPS project. Partners include trucking fleets Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), Hub Group (NASDAQ: HUBG),, and six state DOTs.

Tasks within the project include testing automated truck queuing at a U.S. port, an intermodal drayage yard-to-exit operation, a long-haul exit-to-exit operation and a cross-country level 4 and level 5 automated driving demonstration from San Francisco to New York across Interstate 80.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.