Federal Agencies Consider Revising Automated Trucking Rules

May 22, 2019 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Two federal safety agencies want the public to help change rules for trucking as robots take over for human drivers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration each issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking Wednesday. The notices include 60 days for comments.

Partially automated driving systems are the focus of most existing safety rules, the agencies said. Those rules require a driver to remain engaged when automated features are in use. NHTSA wants to revise standards that prohibit vehicles without steering wheels and brake pedals.

“NHTSA will continue to adapt to make sure the agency is equipped to ensure public safety while encouraging innovation,” said Heidi King, NHTSA deputy administrator.

CHANGES SOUGHT

The FMCSA wants to change rules that govern heavy-duty trucks driven by automated systems instead of humans. Issues include licensing requirements, hours of service, medical issues and distracted driving.

“It is critical that we make federal rules keep up with this advancing technology,” said Ray Martinez, FMCSA administrator.

The FMCSA is expected to reveal a proposal for revising hours-of-service rules in early June. Drivers currently are restricted to 11 hours behind the wheel in a 14-hour period. That is followed by a mandatory 10-hour sleep break. Autonomous systems do not require rest. Furthermore, predictive maintenance would eliminate most breakdowns.

LEVEL 4 AUTONOMY

Daimler Trucks North America leads in Level 4 autonomous driving, in which the truck operates on its own most of the time. Daimler will offer an optional Level 2 automated system on the Freightliner Cascadia this fall. That will allow hands- and feet-free operation, but the driver must remain engaged at all times.

The German truck maker and sibling of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars recently purchased a majority interest in Torc Robotics. It plans to demonstrate a Level 4 autonomous truck this year. It further plans to build them for sale within the decade.

Startup companies Embark and TuSimple are testing Level 4-equipped trucks on regular routes in the southwest U.S. TuSimple has a two-week pilot with the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail from a distribution center in Phoenix to Dallas.

The online public comment period is 60 days from the time the notices appear in the Federal Register. The docket number is FMCSA-2018-0037.

Jerry Hirsch April 10, 2019
Truck manufacturers are working to develop self-driving trucks. But they also see a role for human drivers. How can the two co-exist?

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