Autonomous Trucking Regulations
As we inch closer to a future where autonomous vehicles become a reality, it is crucial to establish regulations that ensure the safe and efficient integration of these technologies onto our roadways. At present, much of the focus falls on passenger vehicles, but autonomous trucks are a hot topic of conversation in our world.
Need a refresher on this series? Check out our explainer article: What is Autonomous Trucking?
Developing ADS regulations
Currently, most commercial ADS systems on U.S. roadways are in passenger vehicles, and CMV ADSs have only recently begun being implemented in real-world operations. Therefore, the FMCSA needs more data on ADS-equipped CMVs to understand driver behavior and policy implications.
Recognizing this need, the FMCSA has asked for input from stakeholders, industry experts, advocacy groups, technology developers, and the general public regarding the regulatory framework surrounding CMVs equipped with ADS many times over the past few years. In fact, the agency solicited feedback with a new study aimed at examining the effect of non-driving secondary task engagement, transfer of control, and training on driver behavior in CMVs equipped with ADS and ADAS.
The Driving Simulator Study
Around 100 CMV drivers participated in the study, which is characterized as a “driving simulator study.” It included a series of questionnaires designed to evaluate how CMV drivers engage in vehicles equipped with Level 2 ADAS and Level 3 ADS.
According to the FMCSA, “The purpose for obtaining data in this study is to evaluate driver readiness to assume control in SAE L2 ADAS and L3 ADS-equipped CMVs and develop and test a CMV driver distraction training program designed to improve driver readiness. The collected survey data will support the simulator experiment data.”
The deadline to submit comments for this study was May 22, 2023. Feedback from this request is still being processed.
Why This Study Is Important
“ADS developers are actively engaged in the development, testing, and limited deployment of ADS-equipped CMVs, and promoting their use in commercial motor carrier operations,” said the FMCSA. “Although many ADS-equipped CMVs are being tested in manufacturer or developer-owned fleets, many developers and manufacturers are also working to integrate their ADS equipment into existing motor carrier fleets. To mitigate potential safety risks associated with in-service use of ADS-equipped CMVs, FMCSA is developing an appropriate regulatory framework.”
The feedback the FMCSA received in the past provided valuable insights into the potential benefits and risks of ADS in CMVs, and the challenges involved in regulating the technology. It also highlighted the need for updated and consistent regulations to ensure safety and compliance with the use of ADS in CMVs.
From September through November 2022, the FMCSA opened comments on the Federal Register on the issue of automated and advanced driving systems. These comments focused on nine main issues, some of which are addressed in the new study and some will be addressed in future studies.
1. General safety concerns with advanced driving systems
50% of the comments received expressed general safety concerns related to ADS-equipped CMVs. Some of these focused on the ability of ADS technology to function as intended and that the appropriate redundant failsafe systems were in place. Other questions focused on the human factors related to how CMV drivers will interact with ADS-equipped CMVs.
The results from this study will help develop a training program designed to improve drivers' understanding and expectation of ADS, as well as attempt to improve their attention maintenance and hazard anticipation while operating Level 2 and Level 3 vehicles.
2. Concern for job loss due to ADS-equipped CMVs
The trucking industry employs millions of individuals–drivers and industry supporting roles–who are vital to the economy. Better pay for drivers, effective training, safe equipment, and improved quality of life for drivers are important factors for retaining safe drivers within the industry.
ADAS and ADS offer possible solutions that help drivers maintain a better quality of life, such as improved health through crash reduction and more home time. Both systems under investigation in this study would require a driver to be in the truck at all times and ready to resume control of the vehicle when requested. Thus, the technologies investigated in this study would not result in driver job loss.
3. Concerns related to the operation of ADS within specific operational design domains
Each ADS is designed to operate within specific conditions which provide safe parameters for operation on the road. Before ADS can be widely deployed, additional development, testing, and verification of ADS-equipped CMVs is needed to ensure they are able to operate in all conditions or anticipate and respond to all potential events.
As the safety technologies being investigated in this study require a driver to be inside the vehicle at all times, they would be able to assume control of the CMV if the situation arises. This one reason why it is important to research driver inattention and vigilance to ensure drivers are capable of taking control when needed. An ADS driver training program would help facilitate educate and highlight the importance of being aware while operating a Level 2 or Level 3 vehicle.
4. Concerns with specific ADS and/or ADAs
Although the technology to support ADS (such as automatic emergency braking) has improved, improvements are still needed before ADS-equipped CMVs can be deployed. One of this study’s objectives is to better understand the effect of driver inattention because if Level 2 vehicle drivers are paying attention to the road, they can anticipate hazards or scenarios when Level 2 features may not operate as intended.
5. The failure of ADS sensors
When a sensor fails and/or becomes dirty (if covered in debris, for example) they become inoperable. As such, it is critical for ADS to have redundant sensors or a backup sensor system. Research on the functionality of the technologies and sensors is ongoing. Again, driver awareness comes into play as they need to be ready to take control of the vehicle if a sensor fails or inaccurately anticipates a hazard.
6. The security of ADS-equipped CMVs
Security is very important and additional research is needed, but this is an issue separate from this study.
7. Driver inattention/distraction when operating an ADS
Some commenters were concerned that there would be potential increases in driver distraction, inattention, and reduced vigilance with the implementation of crash mitigation technologies. This study is designed to gather data on these concerns in a safe environment, and the results will be used to develop training programs and materials to help reduce this risk going forward.
8. Data collection efforts
The participants in this study are merely a convenience sample and not representative of the U.S. CMV industry. The study will collect demographic information (such as gender, age, health, etc.), which may be utilized to understand extraneous or confounding variables during analysis.
9. Support for the study
Some commenters expressed concern that there hasn’t been enough research for the higher levels of ADS (Levels 4 and 5), which the FMCSA agrees needs additional data on. However, given that Level 2 ADAS vehicles are available for purchase now, the primary focus of this study is understanding how driver inattention affects performance in the lower-level ADAS and ADS.
However, earlier this spring, the FMCSA did solicit public input on advanced levels of autonomy, Levels 4 and 5, specifically in regards to the following areas:
- Whether motor carriers should be required to notify the FMCSA that they are operating without a human driver in the cab of the CMV
- How to regulate “remote” truck drivers
- How to handle pre-trip and roadside inspection requirements for ADS-equipped vehicles
The deadline to submit comments for this study was March 20, 2023. Feedback from this request is still being processed.
Why Public Participation Matters
Public participation is paramount when developing regulations for emerging technologies such as ADS. Key reasons why the FMCSA's invitation for public comments is crucial include:
Public input ensures that a wide range of perspectives and experiences are considered, leading to more comprehensive regulations. Different stakeholders, including drivers, fleet operators, researchers, and safety advocates, bring unique insights that can help identify potential challenges and devise effective solutions.
Addressing Safety Concerns
Safety is of utmost importance when it comes to implementing ADS in CMVs. By encouraging public participation, the FMCSA can identify safety concerns, potential risks, and areas where regulations may need further refinement to ensure public safety on the roads.
Balancing Innovation and Regulation
Striking the right balance between encouraging innovation and implementing effective regulations is essential. Public comments can help policymakers understand the potential impact of ADS on various stakeholders, while ensuring that regulations facilitate innovation while safeguarding public interest.
Building Trust and Transparency
Soliciting public comments fosters transparency and builds trust between the regulatory authorities, industry stakeholders, and the public. When people feel heard and included in the decision-making process, they are more likely to support and comply with the resulting regulations.
YOUR fEEDBACK is important
It's important to recognize that regulations are continuously evolving as technology advances and more knowledge is gained about the benefits and challenges of autonomous trucking. As a result, it is crucial for drivers, trucking companies, and other industry professionals to stay informed and engage in ongoing discussions with regulatory bodies to shape effective and appropriate regulations.
What are the pros and cons of autonomous trucking? Learn more in our recent article!