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FMCSA asks public for comment on how to regulate self-driving trucks

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is asking the public for comments on how commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS) should be regulated.

On January 31, 2023, the FMCSA issued a Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) requesting input on how to establish a regulatory framework for ADS-equipped CMV operations. The agency previously sought public comment on the regulation of ADS-equipped CMVs in May 2019.

“ADS-equipped CMVs have the potential to produce measurable safety benefits in crashes involving human error. ADS-equipped CMVs, however, present operational characteristics and challenges that may introduce new and complex safety risks that need to be monitored and may require FMCSA to modify existing and/or adopt new regulatory standards. ADS developers are actively engaged in the development, testing, and limited deployment of ADS,” the FMCSA said.

The FMCSA is specifically interested in three major areas of focus regarding self-driving tuck technology:

  1. Whether motor carriers should be required to notify the FMCSA that they are operating without a human driver in the cab of the CMV.
  2. How to regulate “remote” truck drivers.
  3. How to handle pre-trip and roadside inspection requirements for ADS-equipped vehicles.

Should Carriers Notify FMCSA Before Operating Without A Human In Cab?

The agency says that it is considering “establishing a requirement for motor carriers to notify FMCSA that they will operate those CMVs in interstate commerce without a human driver behind the wheel.”

The FMCSA specifically seeks public comment on the following questions regarding highly automated (Level 4 or 5) ADS-equipped CMVs.

1.1. Should FMCSA require motor carriers operating Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs to notify FMCSA before operating those vehicles in interstate commerce without a human driver behind the wheel? If so, what potential methods or procedures should be established to notify FMCSA of those operations?

1.2. Before operating in interstate commerce, should motor carriers be required to submit information, data, documentation, or other evidence that demonstrates to FMCSA that motor carriers seeking to operate Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs have appropriate safety management controls in place to operate the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and with Federal requirements? If so, please describe any recommended approaches including the information to be provided and appropriate techniques for reviewing that information. If available, provide cost estimates for proposed approaches.

1.3. What data should FMCSA collect and maintain regarding Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs engaged in interstate transportation? How would such information be used and how would it improve FMCSA’s ability to oversee the safe operation of Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs?

1.4. What is the current size of the Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMV population? What is the anticipated size of the population within 5 years? What might the size of the population be in 10 years?

1.5. On average, how many days are Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs expected to be operational per year?

Should “Remote” Truck Drivers Follow The Same Rules As Other Truckers?

The FMCSA says that some carriers may use a person operating as a remote assistant who would remotely monitor the Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMV and engage with the vehicle if the system was unable to perform a driving task or in the case of an emergency. The remote assistant could also be called on to interact with law enforcement or other officials.

The agency specifically asks for public comment on the following questions:

2.1. To what extent should the Federal requirements otherwise applicable to CMV drivers (such as hours-of service limitations, drug and alcohol testing, and physical qualifications), also apply to a remote assistant who is not expected to take control of the dynamic driving task of an ADS-equipped CMV operating at Level 4?

2.2. What, if any, aspects of the remote assistant job function may require FMCSA oversight including minimum standards and/or auditing, e.g., training, physical qualifications, and other job-performance related measures? Please provide rationale and evidence for the recommended manner of oversight.

2.3. Are there any qualification requirements that FMCSA should consider for remote assistants, such as related experience, e.g., as a CDL holder?

2.4. Are there any specific limitations that should be imposed on the working conditions of remote assistants, such as limitations on the number of ADS-equipped CMVs that a remote assistant is simultaneously responsible for or the number of hours that a remote assistant may work?

2.5. Are there any other considerations that FMCSA should be aware of relating to individuals who may function as remote assistants?

How Should Pre-Trip and Roadside Inspection Rules Impact Automated CMVs?

The FMCSA is also looking at whether additional inspection requirements would be appropriate for Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs to reduce overall safety risk associated with this new technology and to account for their extended periods of operation without direct human observation.

The agency is looking for answers to the following questions:

3.1. Should Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs be subject to pre-trip inspection requirements for their mechanical and ADS components in addition to those specified in 49 CFR 392.7, including those which might necessitate new inspection equipment, before such CMVs are dispatched and after a specified period of operation? If so, what methods should be used to conduct these additional inspection items, what equipment components should be inspected, what documentation should be required, who should be responsible for conducting those inspections and what qualifications or specialized training should be required, and how frequently should the additional inspections be conducted?

3.2. If additional inspections, inspection equipment, or additional qualifications for inspectors are proposed, provide an estimate of the costs associated with such additional requirements including the approximate time to complete the additional inspection requirements, costs of any proposed training if additional inspector requirements are proposed, and the paperwork burden associated with such training.

3.3. 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 those barriers?

3.4. What, if any, pre-trip inspection requirements, documentation, and communications capability (for making the results of such inspections available to law enforcement personnel), should be imposed on motor carriers operating Level 4 and 5 ADS-equipped CMVs as a condition for by-passing conventional roadside inspection stations?

3.5. If Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs are not required by the States to undergo roadside inspections during operation, what information should be communicated by the motor carrier and CMV to the State inspectors ( e.g., the results of potential alternative pre-trip inspections, and/or the real-time operational status and condition of safety critical systems such as brakes, tires, lighting systems, steering, and ADS components)? Are there other data and performance information that would need to be made available to ensure adequate vehicle maintenance and safe operations?

3.6. What communication systems currently exist that would allow roadside inspection officers to receive information regarding Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs, and what information could be transmitted via these systems regarding the mechanical condition of the CMV and other operational documentation, ( e.g., shipping documents and origin/destination), while in route?

3.7 Under what safety situations should State inspectors and/or FMCSA receive immediate notification of an unsafe maintenance or operational issue, if any? What data and information would need to be provided in instances such as tow-away crashes or those that disable key operational features of a CMV? Under such safety situations, what return to service process would ensure any maintenance and operation issues have been addressed?

3.8. 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, cargo theft?

3.9. Should Level 4 or 5 ADS-equipped CMVs be subject to additional post-trip inspection requirements for the mechanical or ADS components of the CMV?

Comments are due on or before March 20, 2023.

You can click here to submit your comment online.

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