FMCSA Takes First Step in Regulating Automated Driving for Trucks and Buses

This week the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its first step toward regulating automated systems in trucks and buses. The advanced notice of proposed rule making (ANPRM), “Safe Integration of Automated Driving Systems-Equipped Commercial Motor Vehicles” outlines some of its initial steps on regulating ADS-equipped commercial motor vehicles (CMV) into the US fleet. The is consistent with Eno’s recommendations in Beyond Speculation 2.0, which recommends creating a federal framework for safety for automated vehicles.

The ANPRM represents a major policy shift at FMCSA. In 2017, the agency officially stated that “a trained commercial driver must be behind the wheel at all times, regardless of any automated driving technologies available on the CMV, unless a petition for a waiver or exemption has been granted.” Similar to what was published in Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP) 3.0, the agency is now adopting definitions for “driver” and “operator” that recognize that they may include an automated system. The ANPRM goes as far as to say that a human operator might not need to be present at all in the vehicle during its operation.

Of course, terminology changes do not mean that FMCSA will not be involved in regulating such activity. As the ANPRM lays out, FMCSA’s rule is targeted toward SAE Level 4 and Level 5 automated driving systems. Per the ANPRM, FMCSA does not believe that it needs to revise its regulations for SAE Levels 2 or 3 because each would still require a licensed operator to be present at the controls at all times.

The document is the very beginning of creating long term rules on how CMVs with automated driving systems (ADS) operate on public roadways. The language makes it overly clear that FMCSA is seeking comments and feedback, emphasizing that even the initial proposals are subject to significant change. As such, each section ends with a series of questions to prompt detailed public comment.

The ANPRM’s most significant proposal is how automated systems relate to hours of service (HOS) rules. Truck and bus drivers are subject to strict rules on how many hours they are allowed driving before taking breaks, and how long those breaks need to be based on the hours they drive. The FMCSA proposed continuing the current approach for HOS rules, meaning that any if the driver is in the sleeper-berth (including while the vehicle is controlled by ADS technology), the human driver is considered off-duty. And if the human driver is working but the automated system is conducting the driving, then the work should be considered on-duty but not driving.

If formalized, the new rules could be a boon to developers of automated driving systems for trucks and buses. Those vehicles would not have to stop for the driver to rest so long as the ADS was able to continue the trip, boosting productivity and making a strong market for the tech.

FMCSA also has strict regulations that prohibit distracted driving, including from texting and using handheld wireless phones while driving. The ANPRM indicates that this prohibition will continue for any operator sitting in the driver’s seat, whether the ADS is conducting the driving or not.

Another significant proposal relates to inspections of CMVs. FMCSA proposes that all ADS-equipped CMVs would need a pre-trip inspection, post trip inspection, periodic system inspection, and the ability for en route inspection for cargo. This means that ADS developers and operators would need to figure out how to conduct those inspections within their operating models, and would need to be able to detect emergency vehicles and take appropriate action to move to the side of the road.

FMCSA does not propose any changes to several of its rules that potentially relate to ADS-equipped CMVs, including medical requirements, drug or alcohol rules, or licensing requirements.

A related ANPRM was released the same day from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that proposes initial regulations for safety standards of non-commercial passenger vehicles. While no Level 4 automated vehicles exist beyond testing, both of these rules intend to set the groundwork for eventual safety regulations during deployment.

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