Regulators shift automated trucks into higher gear

The nation’s top truck safety agencies are seeking comments on how to develop regulations addressing fast-moving vehicle automation technology.

Advance notices of proposed rulemaking were issued on May 22 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), focused on removing “unnecessary regulatory barriers” to automated driving systems (ADS) vehicle technology in the U.S.

“We know that while many of these technologies are still in development, it is critical that we carefully examine how to make federal rules keep up with this advancing technology,” commented FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez in announcing the proposal.

FMCSA said it is considering whether and how to amend its existing regulations so that it can integrate ADS into commercial vehicle operations, with the intent, at least initially, of avoiding “an entirely separate set of rules” for ADS-equipped commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).

While some FMCSA regulatory requirements for commercial drivers, such as drug and alcohol testing requirements, have no application to ADS, the agency pointed out that many of its current regulations can be readily applied in the context of ADS-equipped CMVs.

FMCSA said it wants to better understand how changes to its rules can account for “significant differences” between human operators and ADS. “These questions focus on topics such as: requirements of human drivers; [commercial drivers license] endorsements; Hours of Service rules; medical qualifications; distracted driving; safe driving, inspection, repair and maintenance; roadside inspections; and cybersecurity,” the agency noted.

NHTSA said it’s looking to identify regulatory barriers to the deployment of ADS vehicles posed by certain existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). “The agency is also interested in hearing from the public on various approaches that could be used to measure compliance with the FMVSS for vehicles without conventional controls, including steering wheels and brake pedals,” NHTSA stated.

The FMCSA and NHTSA proposals follow the direction set by the Trump Administration in promoting vehicle technology as a means of fostering economic growth. That policy was most recently advanced through DOT’s“AV 3.0” initiative published in October 2018, which focuses on safety while building bridges between industry and government to incorporate automated technologies in the U.S. transportation system.

Both proposals will have a 60-day comment period that starts when they’re formally published in the Federal Register.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

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.

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