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FMCSA proposes new requirements for driverless trucks

WASHINGTON — The federal government is taking the next step toward regulating highly automated trucks with a proposal that will consider requiring carriers to notify the government if they plan to operate such vehicles in interstate commerce.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Wednesday will issue a new supplement to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking issued in 2019 to help the agency assess costs and benefits of any future formal rulemaking for trucks using Level 4 and Level 5 automation — those that do not require a human driver behind the wheel.

In addition to the notification requirement, the supplement, Safe Integration of Automated Driving Systems (ADS)-Equipped Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs), also considers requirements for remote assistants who monitor autonomous trucks, as well as potential new vehicle inspection and maintenance requirements.

FMCSA points out in the new proposal that while it is continuing to look at the potential risks and safety benefits of lower-level automation (Levels 0-3) — considered “driver-assist” technology — it does not see a need to revise regulations to integrate that equipment because it requires a human driver to be behind the wheel at all times.

“The focus of this notice is Level 4 and 5 ADS-equipped CMVs because it is only at those levels that an ADS can control all aspects of the dynamic driving task without any expectation of an intervention from a human driver,” FMCSA stated.

Among questions the agency is asking the public related to motor carrier notification:

  • Should FMCSA require motor carriers operating Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs to notify the agency before operating those vehicles in interstate commerce without a human driver behind the wheel? What potential methods or procedures should be established?
  • Before operating in interstate commerce, should motor carriers be required to submit information, data, documentation or other evidence that demonstrates carriers seeking to operate Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs have appropriate safety management controls in place?
  • What data should FMCSA collect and maintain regarding Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs engaged in interstate transportation? How should such information be used?

FMCSA defines “remote assistants” as “a human who provides remote information or advice to an ADS-equipped vehicle in driverless operation in order to facilitate trip continuation when the ADS encounters a situation it cannot manage.”

The supplemental proposed rule asks for comment on the extent to which federal rules that apply to commercial drivers — such as hours of service, drug testing and physical qualifications — should also apply to remote assistants and if remote assistants should be required to hold a CDL.

Regarding vehicle inspection and maintenance, FMCSA notes that because Level 4 and 5 automated trucks can potentially operate almost continuously except for refueling and maintenance, it is therefore considering whether additional inspection requirements would be appropriate.

“At the same time, roadside inspections of Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs would be uniquely challenging in the absence of a human driver to engage in the inspection process,” such as testing the braking system, lighting functions, FMCSA contends.

The agency is asking for public comment on related questions, including:

  • Should Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs be subject to pre-trip inspection requirements for their mechanical and ADS components … including those which might necessitate new inspection equipment?
  • What technical barriers exist to conducting conventional roadside inspections (which require interactions with the human driver) of Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs and what approaches currently exist or might be developed to remove them?
  • If Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs are not subject to state roadside inspections, how would law enforcement agencies and motor carriers ensure that such CMVs are not used to engage in unlawful activity, e.g., human trafficking and cargo theft?
  • Should Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs be subject to additional post-trip inspection requirements for the mechanical or ADS components?

Comments on the proposal are due March 20.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.