Trucker 1239 Otto Cab

Potholes in the road to self-driving trucks

April 26, 2017
Driver training, safety, cybersecurity among topics discussed in FMCSA session

With nearly daily media reports detailing new breakthroughs of highly automated commercial vehicles (HACVs), it may seem they are almost ready for large-scale use.

Yet a public listening session sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) illustrated just how many questions remain to be answered before the technology can become a reality on the nation’s highways.

“There is a gigantic void between what is reality and what is the Hollywood version of what is going on. We are a long, long way from a truly driverless truck, and I think everyone in this room knows that,” said Tom Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association.

This listening session, broadcasted live online, took place this week in Atlanta as part a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) forum.

“Our goal is not to impede progress but for us as regulators to try to run alongside development as it moves forward,” noted Daphne Jefferson, FMCSA’s deputy administrator.

Last year an OTTO autonomous truck haiuled a load of beer by itself over a 125-mile route.

The agency is accepting public comments until July 17 as begins to consider regulations and guidelines covering different levels of automation.

Much of the discussion surrounded what rule changes for driver training and hours of service might be needed if there is a shift toward autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles.

Ognen Stojanovski, part of Uber’s advanced technologies group responsible for last year’s autonomous beer delivery in Colorado by Otto, offered up some of the session’s most specific suggestions.

He said no changes to existing training or safety regulations are needed if someone is required in the driver’s seat when in autonomous mode.

However, new approaches will be needed for fully autonomous trucks – when a driver is not supervising the operation of the vehicle. For example, he suggested allowing drivers to log sleeper berth time while the vehicle is in motion on its own.

“We think it would be highly beneficial for the FMCSA to recognize the fundamental distinction between HACVs that require a driver behind the wheel, which are commonly described as advanced driving assistance systems, and those that do not require any human engagement, often labeled autonomous vehicles,” he said.

Following his comments, Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA’s chief safety officer, asked if Uber was ready to move forward with truly driverless trucks.

“No, we’re not there now,” Stojanovski replied.

A view of Freightliner's Inspiation truck, which can operate itself, outside of Las Vegas.

Additional topics over the two-hour session included if autonomous vehicles need decals for easy detection on the road, who is liable if there in an accident involving an autonomous vehicle, how to ensure the cyber security of these vehicles and what maintenance challenges could result from the advanced technologies.

Angelo Gibson, assistant vice president of operations for TL carrier Werner Enterprises, urged regulators to maintain a focus on safety as it weighs the possibilities with these evolving technologies.

“Through automation we want to make sure we keep that at the forefront,” he said.

Danny Hefner, director of safety and recruiting for MCO Transport, wondered if a driverless truck can maintain its lane if it blows a tire or suffers a basic equipment failure.

He also recommended the Department of Homeland Security get involved to ensure the highest level of encryption to ensure cyber security.

Other speakers included representatives of trucking fleet, Volvo TrucksDaimler Trucks North America, the insurance industry and law enforcement.

About the Author

Neil Abt

Neil Abt, editorial director at Fleet Owner, is a veteran journalist with over 20 years of reporting experience, including 15 years spent covering the trucking industry. A graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., he began his career covering sports for The Washington Post newspaper, followed by a position in the newsroom of America Online (AOL) and then both reporting and leadership roles at Transport Topics. Abt is based out of Portland, Oregon.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Leveraging telematics to get the most from insurance

Fleet owners are quickly adopting telematics as part of their risk mitigation strategy. Here’s why.

Reliable EV Charging Solution for Last-Mile Delivery Fleets

Selecting the right EV charging infrastructure and the right partner to best solve your needs are critical. Learn which solution PepsiCo is choosing to power their fleet and help...

Overcoming Common Roadblocks Associated with Fleet Electrification at Scale

Fleets in the United States, are increasingly transitioning from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. While this shift presents challenges, there are strategies...

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...