FMCSA seeking input on regs to help deployment of autonomous trucks

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is asking for public comments on existing regulations that could be updated, modified or removed to help usher in autonomous trucks, or automated driving systems (ADS) as they are referred to in a Federal Register notice published last week.

The effort to evaluate regulations that could affect the deployment of autonomous trucks is part of a larger U.S. Department of Transportation initiative to clear a regulatory path for autonomous technology, including driverless trucks.

FMCSA says in the Federal Register notice it is reconsidering its previous stance that a driver is required behind the wheel of commercial vehicles at all times. The agency now says it believes the FMCSRs give it the flexibility to allow ADS to perform driving functions without a driver in the driver’s seat under current regulations.

The administration adds that it can grant waivers up to three months, exemptions up to five years or allow pilot programs for up to three years to allow the operation of commercial vehicles without a driver in the driver’s seat.

FMCSA is seeking information from the trucking industry stakeholders, the motoring public and ADS manufacturers on any current regulations that could hinder the development and testing of ADS-equipped trucks. Specifically, the agency wants to hear from the public on how ADS-equipped trucks could interact with the following existing regulations:

  • Inspection, repair and maintenance
  • Roadside and annual inspections
  • Distracted driving and driver monitoring
  • Medical qualifications
  • Hours-of-service
  • CDL endorsements
  • Data sharing
  • The Beyond Compliance program

Specific questions FMCSA is looking to have answered on each of these topics can be found in the Federal Register notice.

Additionally, FMCSA is asking for public comment on a preliminary review of regulations that “may relate to the development and safe introduction of ADS” by the U.S. DOT’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

Volpe says its review focused on Level 3 to Level 5 autonomous technology. Level 3 requires a driver in the truck ready to take control of the truck, but the driver doesn’t have to constantly monitor the environment around the truck. Level 4 autonomous trucks are capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions, and the driver has the option to take control. Level 5 autonomous – the highest level – doesn’t require a driver as the truck is capable of handling all driving functions in all conditions.

The research by Volpe revealed that many of the issues that could present conflict between automated technology and current regulations involve how the definition of “driver” or “operator” would be applied. An on-board, non-driving technician or someone in a remote location controlling the truck could be considered an operator.

Volpe says scenarios involving onboard technicians who are not expected to drive and those in which the truck would be controlled by a remote operator present the biggest challenges. The group adds that automated systems that require at least occasional direct human driver involvement would have the fewest challenges in complying with current regulations.

Volpe says the following broad regulations could present challenges for all automated systems:

  • Restrictions on the use of additional equipment or accessories that decreases the safety of operation of a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce (part 393 of FMCSRs).
  • Restrictions on the operation of a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce in such a condition as to likely cause an accident (part 396).
  • Requirements for the driver of a CMV be restrained by a seat belt if the CMV is equipped with a seat belt assembly at the driver’s seat (part 392).

The group also identified the following regulations that would be more restrictive to driverless technologies:

  • How should an on-board, non-driving technician or remote supervisor be trained and licensed, and how should certain regulations, such as hours-of-service, apply to them?
  • How should knowledge requirements, physical fitness qualifications, alcohol and controlled substance restrictions and HOS restrictions be applied to an automated driving system?
  • How would driverless trucks comply with cargo and equipment inspection requirements, specifically those that apply to in-transit CMVs?

Volpe’s full report can be found here.

Those who wish to comment on any of FMCSA’s questions or Volpe’s report regarding how current regulations could hinder the development, testing and implementation of automated driving systems can do so HERE.

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