California Plans Regulations for Autonomous Delivery Truck Tests

April 16, 2019 by Susan Carpenter, @CarpenterWheels

California plans a new set of regulations that will govern how autonomous delivery trucks can be tested and deployed on public roads.

The proposed rules, introduced by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday, would allow companies with light-duty delivery vehicles of less than 10,001 pounds to apply for permits that would let them operate autonomous trucks, as long as they do not charge a delivery fee.

In a statement, the DMV said these light-duty trucks are designed and used primarily to transport property.

Small self-driving delivery trucks fit “a business model that the Department of Motor Vehicles has observed gaining momentum,” the agency said. “Due to the current restrictions on testing and deployment, some manufacturers interested in developing autonomous motortrucks have been forced to move their testing operations to other states.”

STATES ON THEIR OWN

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets motor vehicle safety standards at the federal level, but it has not adopted any regulations governing the testing or operation of automated vehicles on public roads. That has left states to set their own rules. Several now allow autonomous vehicle testing on public roads, including Arizona, Nevada and California, but not all allow trucks.

California has three autonomous-vehicle permit options for manufacturers of passenger vehicles. They are testing with a safety driver, driverless testing and deployment, which the DMV defines as “the operation of autonomous vehicles by members of the public.”

Currently 62 companies (including Bosch, Tesla Motors, Lyft and Mercedes-Benz) have permits to test AVs with a safety driver on the state’s public roadways, under regulations that took effect in September 2014. Only one company – Waymo – has received a permit for autonomous testing without a driver, under new regulations the state adopted this month. No companies have received a permit to commercially deploy autonomous vehicles.

Nuro autonomous vehicle

The California Department of Motor Vehicles unveiled proposed rules that will govern testing and deployment of autonomous delivery trucks like this one from Nuro. (Photo: Nuro)

WEIGHT LIMIT

While California’s autonomous vehicle regulations specifically exclude the testing and deployment of big trucks and buses weighing more than 10,001 pounds, the new proposal doesn’t change that. It only amends existing rules to include delivery trucks weighing less than 10,001 pounds.
“The development of light duty autonomous vehicles capable of performing motortruck functions necessitated the reconsideration of the exclusion of such vehicles in the department’s regulations,” the DMV said in a statement.

Several companies, including Uber, Waymo, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Volvo, are pursuing autonomous trucking. But, truly autonomous trucks remain years away by some estimates. Level 4 autonomy – which requires drivers but does not require them to keep their hands or eyes on the road – “is doable by 2040,” said Matt Trentacosta, an analyst with IHS Markit. “To get to totally driverless, in terms of on-highway, we don’t see that as extremely likely to be adopted or allowed by 2040.”

But Daimler Trucks North America, the owner of the Freightliner brands, has said it is working on developing Level 4 trucks that could be deployed within 10 years.

Friday’s introduction of California’s proposed regulations marks the beginning of a 45-day public comment period that ends May 27. The DMV will then hold a public hearing to gather input on the regulations.

Alan Adler March 29, 2019
Daimler Trucks purchased a majority interest in Torc Robotics, a maker of automated vehicle systems that Daimler sees as a key to commercializing driverless trucks on U.S. roads.

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