FMCSA Pushes Development of Automated Driving Systems

June 27, 2018 by Clarissa Hawes

A regulatory roadmap for safety and security concerns surrounding automated driving systems is key to driving development of the technology.

That’s the belief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with safety oversight of the trucking industry.

Continued dialogue with industry leaders will also be critical, said Ray Martinez, the head of the FMCSA. “We don’t want to be caught flat-footed here as [automated] technology marches forward.”

The agency also has tapped the public for input as a way to re-evaluate existing regulations. The aim of the program is to “facilitate the safe introduction of ADS equipped commercial motor vehicles” onto U.S. roads, according to the FMSCA.

Martinez was part of a panel discussion held at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, which is the state’s top research and testing site for connected and automated vehicle technology. Representatives from the trucking and technology industries also weighed in.

Automated driving systems, or ADS, in commercial trucks has the “potential to save thousands of lives” each year, Martinez said.

It also could also lead to safer roads. “About nine out of ten roadway crashes are due to poor human behavior and choices, including factors such as impaired driving, distraction and speed,” he said.

Advances in automated technology could also reduce congestion, improve productivity and limit the costs associated with trucking crashes, Martinez said.

The public comments FMCSA has been accepting also will help “shape future rule-making efforts,” said Wiley Deck, the agency’s director of government affairs, who co-chairs the ADS initiative.

Cybersecurity and hackers have been a top concern among commenters, Deck said.

FMSCA will focus on identifying these types of vulnerabilities and designed standards to protect against them, he said.

The agency also will look for possible stakeholder partnership opportunities for deployment of public demonstrations or pilot programs concerning automated driving systems in commercial vehicles.

FMCSA also will work with states to develop a cohesive regulatory framework.

Twenty-two states have passed legislation authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles, starting with Nevada in 2011. Governor governors in 10 states have issued executive orders regarding the technology, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some large trucking fleets see advances in automated technology as a way to curb the driver shortage. It’s estimated that there will be a shortage of 63,000 drivers this year and is projected to rise to 174,000 in 2026, according to the American Trucking Associations.

The driver shortage was the top-ranked issued for the industry for the first time since 2006, the ATA said.

However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association argued that driverless trucks could eliminate valuable trucking jobs and hurt the economy.

“Professional drivers and millions more working in other segments of trucking face a particularly uncertain future,” said Jay Grimes, legislative affairs director of the trade group, which counts nearly 160,000 truck drivers as members.

Grimes asked if FMSCA currently is investigating the impact automated driving systems may have on trucking jobs.

FMCSA will work with the Department of Labor to study the impact, Deck said.

The move to fully autonomous trucks – which means no driver, steering wheel or pedals – is “many, many, many” years away from being ready, according to the ATA.

“These systems will help drivers, making them more productive and the job itself less demanding,” Sean McNally, ATA spokesman, told Trucks.com.

These advanced technologies also will make it easier to recruit new drivers into the industry, McNally said. “We believe there will be a significant role for professional drivers in the trucking industry for some time to come.”

Other fears include how the systems will handle volatile weather conditions, passenger cars on the roads and pedestrians in urban centers.

“There is fantastic technology out there, but it’s clearly in development,” Deck said.

“Innovation does move quickly,” he said.

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