Heavy-hitters representing the business, safety and insurance sectors of the trucking industry are opposing Pronto AI’s request for exemption from hours-of-service (HOS) rules that the startup contends are needed to help demonstrate the safety and economic benefits of its autonomous technology.
Pronto AI’s petition, filed with federal regulators in April, seeks to allow drivers in trucks deploying the company’s technology to drive up to 13 hours within 15 hours from the beginning of their work shift following 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Current HOS rules allow only for 11 hours within a 14-hour workday.
Most of the 320 comments filed over the one-month comment period came from small owner-operators who, in addition to safety concerns, stated that granting the exemption would give an unfair advantage to the big trucking companies that can better afford the technology – and use it to potentially eliminate jobs – and push the small companies out of business.
But even the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), which supports the deployment of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and whose members include large trucking companies, did not see Pronto AI’s exemption as the correct way to incentivize autonomous technology.
“Since our drivers already have several hours that are going underutilized out of the currently available 11-hour driving limit, providing additional hours would not be beneficial for the truckload industry,” TCA stated. It further noted that the recent final rule on HOS changes issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would provide “more ideal HOS flexibility for our industry” than what Pronto AI is asking for.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), which represents law enforcement agencies from all 50 states, stated that using ADAS technology to justify relaxing HOS rules is premature. “These safety features are generally reactionary, looking to reduce the impacts of human error,” CVSA said. “Additional driving and on-duty time increase the risk of fatigue and human error, regardless of what safety technology is on a vehicle.”
The California Highway Patrol backed those comments, pointing out that HOS limits are a proven method of reducing driver fatigue. “As such, emerging safety technology should be used in concert with existing driver HOS limits, not as a reason for exemption.”
While it acknowledged some of the merits of Pronto AI’s request, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also asserted that many of the safety benefits touted by the company have yet to be proved. “However, this application does present an opportunity to estimate some of these unknown effects – but only if adequate data are collected,” the group said. “IIHS encourages FMCSA to define a set of data elements and reporting criteria that would inform, at a minimum, the crash reduction effectiveness, fatigue effects, and usage patterns of these technologies.”
Scopelitis Transportation Consulting (STC), which is heavily involved in trucking industry regulatory issues, was a rare commenter in support of Pronto AI’s exemption, pointing out that the request is “not extraordinary or unreasonable.” STC explained that the driving time limits that Pronto was seeking align with the existing Canadian limit of up to 13 hours of driving time, and the on-duty maximum is similar to existing limits in the U.S. for motor coach operations of up to 15 hours of on-duty time in a shift.
STC’s support, however, came with the caveat that the FMCSA include additional safeguards in addition to those that Pronto AI listed in its application. Those included requiring any fleet using the exemption “to provide any driver who informs the company that he/she needs immediate rest…at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time.”
STC also urged FMCSA to consider requiring any fleet using the exemption to have a history of and maintain “very favorable” safety scores within the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.