“We believe at ATA that the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicle technology is literally 20 to 25 years away. But the debate over how it’s going to look and how it’s going to feel is happening right now.” -ATA President & CEO Chris Spear

The regulatory fights trucking expects to face

March 9, 2017
ATA’s chief executive expects trucking to debate on a wide range of different topics in the coming year, even down to the assignment of radio channels by the FCC.

To the eye of Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) trade group, there are a lot of regulatory battles ahead for the industry over the next several years, encompassing everything from developing the protocols governing autonomous vehicle operation to fighting against a mandate for speed limiters, and making  changes to Phase 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) rules, such as removing the trailer mandate.

Yet all of those “big issues” also coincide with a number of “small topics” as well trucking needs to be involved with as well, Spear explained to Fleet Owner in an interview last week at the 2017 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting – topics that could generate larger long-term impacts upon the industry if not addressed.

For example, Spear pointed to the ongoing debate regarding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigning seven channels within the 5.9GHz radio band for “truck communication” protocols.

Reserving those channels for truck communication protocols would provide “wide open pathways” for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connections, better autonomous truck navigation, and safety systems improvement for Class 8 trucks, he said.

Chris Spear speaking at TMC.

“But does the FCC instead reserve some of those channels just to speed up Internet access for folks drinking coffee at the corner Starbucks? They are looking at sharing some of that space; that’s a question the FCC needs to figure out,” Spear noted.

He stressed, however, that if trucking gets allocated all of that 5.9GHz space, “then you are REALLY going to see innovation take off.”

That gets back to the larger question of autonomous vehicles and how soon driverless trucks will be operating on U.S. roads. While Spear said

ATA thinks that the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicle technology “is literally 20 to 25 years away, the debate over how it’s going to look and how it’s going to feel is happening right now. We all need to be doing our homework [on this issue] now.”

Part of that “homework” is how the use of autonomous technology could impact hours of service (HOS) rules. From Spear’s point of view, “it is really going to be about ‘driver-assist’ and not ‘driverless’ when we discuss autonomous technology, so the question then becomes how will such ‘Level 2 &3’ systems count against HOS?”

Much of such regulatory focus on ATA’s part will be about “defining ROI” or return on investment from such technological developments and the rules governing them, Spear added.

“Doing our homework now is about determining the potential ROI and then getting the federal government out of the way so we can unleash innovation,” he stressed.

To that end, Mike Cammisa, ATA’s vice president of safety policy and connectivity, laid out a near-term “roadmap” at TMC’s annual meeting detailing the many different policy and regulatory efforts topping the trade group’s “to do” list for this year:

Automated Trucks: ATA’s Spear is currently a member of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation, which met for the first time in January this year. He also served on a similar panel organized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which expects to issue “guidelines” for driverless trucks by the end of 2017. However, as both of these initiatives got started during the Obama administration, they may undergo changes under Trump’s administration and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao.
  • Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS): In June last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report regarding 85,000 hours of testing 150 Class 8 tractors equipped with CAS technology. That report showed “potentially significant safety benefits” but stopped short of a blanket endorsement as “refinements” are needed to address the issue of false activation. Yet ATA said it will continue supporting efforts by NHTSA to make such technology standard equipment on commercial trucks.
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuel container inspections: ATA and fellow trade group NGVAmerica petitioned NHTSA last April to change the inspection standard for CNG fuel tanks from 36,000 miles or 36 months, whichever comes first, to 12 months for heavy trucks over 10,000 lbs. GVW. NHTSA is moving forward to make that change and a proposal is expected for public review sometime this year.
  • Connected Vehicles: In late 2016, DOT issued a proposed rule regarding the mandatory installation of V2V technology on light-duty vehicles, with the 90-day comment period for that proposed rule set to expire on April 12 this year. It’s expected that NHTSA will issue a similar requirement for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles once that light-duty rulemaking is settled.
  • Removing trailers from the Phase 2 GHG rules: In February this year, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) filed a federal appeals court petition seeking to exempt trailers from the Phase 2 rules, stating that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “overstepped its statute authority” as trailers do not produce emissions and that the Clean Air Act (CAA) under which auspices Phase 2 GHG rules were crafted, did not include trailers. A hearing date has not been set.
  • Speed Limiters: ATA plans to continue opposing the proposed speed limiter rule NHTSA issued in September last year because that rule does not specific a speed cap. The fines for tampering proposed for drivers (up to $2,750) and employees (up to $11,000) are also considered harsh. The rule would be effective three years after final publication, which ATA estimates to be 2020 at the earliest. However, the blanket moratorium issued by the Trump administration earlier this year to halt all current regulatory activity pending a review may place the speed limiter rule in extended limbo.
  • Petition to revise existing NOx standards: In December last year, the EPA said it would begin work to revise the oxides of nitrogen (NOx) standards for heavy-duty diesel engines it originally developed in 2000 when the agency began a long 10-year effort to reduce commercial truck exhaust emission levels. EPA said it will begin work on a rule addressing those standards, which at its earliest would impact model year 2024 diesel engines.
  • Trailer underride guards: NHTSA began holding meetings last year to investigate officially updating its FMVSS 223 rule regarding trailer underride guard standards, notably in the wake of research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that showed current standards needed improvement. NHTSA’s next meeting on this issue is scheduled for August 29 this year.
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