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Robot trucks get their own safety inspection treatment

Proof of roadworthiness must compute with driverless trucks

After years of collaboration, officials now have a plan for safety inspections of autonomous trucks. (Photo: Embark Trucks)

Robot trucks are getting their own Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspections because, well, they are not like other trucks.

It took 2 1/2 years of work by commercial motor vehicle inspectors, state highway patrols, inspection and enforcement experts, motor carriers, autonomous truck developers and government officials to develop standards to inspect trucks with automated driving systems.

“This is an important step that will facilitate safe and effective deployment of automation,” Kevin Grove, director of safety and technology policy for the American Trucking Associations, said in a news release.

The new rules approved Sept. 22 by the CVSA differ from how an inspector treats a human-driven truck. They bridge a trust gap between the trucking industry and law enforcement, Dan Goff, head of external affairs for Kodiak Robotics, told FreightWaves.

“I think the biggest challenge really is building that trust between law enforcement and the industry and helping law enforcement understand why we’re being so proactive in trying to work with them and willing to submit ourselves to a fairly complex inspection,” Goff said.

Human drivers conduct a pre-trip and a post-trip inspection. Along the route, the driver faces weigh/inspection stations or random roadside stops for CVSA North American Standard Inspections.


Today’s roadside enforcement inspections rely on assistance from the driver. Robot-driven trucks without safety drivers won’t have that.

Training course for carriers inspecting robot trucks

The Enhanced CMV Inspection Program includes a no-defect, point-of-origin inspection program for ADS-equipped trucks. It is more stringent than for human-driven trucks. It takes effective immediately but does not impact autonomous trucks with safety drivers supervising operations.

Carrier personnel conducting the inspections must take a 40-hour CVSA training course and exam. Pre-trip inspections take about 40 minutes, twice as long as for a human-operated truck, said Goff, who chaired the ATA task force hat worked with CVSA to create the program.

“Enhanced CMV inspections will raise the bar for road safety while giving law enforcement increased transparency into autonomous truck operations,” said Ariel Wolf, general counsel for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.

Checklist to avoid extra inspections

Drivers will yield to CVSA inspectors to conduct pre-trip inspections on certain ADS-equipped trucks at their point of origin before they are put into service. Autonomous trucks that fail the inspection must be repaired.

CVSA inspectors also will conduct  in-transit inspections at certain intervals throughout the trip. On the road, an ADS-equipped truck would have to show that it:

— Has passed the origin/destination inspection.

— Has automated driving systems functioning.

— Runs within its operational design domain, the conditions in which it is intended to operate safely. 

Bypassing weigh stations

Autonomous vehicles checking those boxes would bypass fixed inspection sites. CVSA inspectors could pull over an autonomous truck only if they observe an imminent hazard or during a post-crash investigation. ADS-equipped vehicles must be able to respond to law enforcement should an officer attempt to pull one over.

“Given the high level of faith in the training of the inspectors, the idea is that unless an officer sees something that they don’t like, [autonomous trucks] will presume to be able to bypass inspection sites,” Goff said.

Avoid random inspections started with passenger buses

A hands-off approach started with passenger buses. They don’t get pulled into weigh stations to avoid inconveniencing passengers. With the new rules, autonomous freight presumably avoids random inspections.

“This enhanced inspection procedure for driverless commercial motor vehicles will ensure the highest level of safety and provide law enforcement with the information they need to be confident about the roadworthiness of autonomous trucks operating on our roadways,” said CVSA President Maj. Chris Nordloh with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Editor’s note: Updates with comments from Dan Goff, chair of the ATA task force that created the program with the CVSA.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler

9 Comments

  1. Didi Miscell

    How about letting highly trained and heroic human truck drivers have more flexibility and trust, even while being forced to use ADS devices? They have been keeping us all safe and supplied for a long time.

  2. John

    so these trucks will not have the human factored in so my question is what regions will these trucks used ? the northeastern portion, the north that borders Canada where the weather can change quickly. how about running in condensed traffic like New York City filthyedelphia Boston Los angeles. also what about coming up on an accident that’s happened before the unit arrives on scene ? just wondering

  3. Kevin Pettes

    So DOT Officers Are Psychic? They Just Look @ Trucks & Figure Out They Are Automated With Or Without Safety Drivers AND Also Figure Out There are No APPARENT Violations Or Safety Mechanical Or Adverse Violations OR Broken Malfunctioning Parts ALL In A Once Over Look..
    I Want To Sign Up For This Form Of DOT INSPECTION.

  4. Trucker

    Drivers are already trained to do inspections to the same level that DOT currently check. What will this course teach that other drivers should not already know? And why will driven vehicles not be able to go through the same process to bypass inspection points?

  5. Molly

    Wow big congrats. Honestly the way weigh stations are setup autonomous should be inspected more. Can’t have sensors on everything the good old eye can really make or break your day. Sounds like a great opportunity for trafficking stuff. Should be safer though.

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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.