FMCSA's Martinez discusses automated vehicles at DOT's headquarters on March 1. (YouTube)

FMCSA's Martinez makes public debut, Spear scolds media for driverless hype

March 2, 2018
Trucking receives plenty of attention at DOT's summit on automated vehicle policy

Trucking may not have been a focal point of federal autonomous policy thus far, but the industry garnered significant attention during the Department of Transportation’s public listening summit on automated vehicle policy.

Derek Kan, under secretary for transportation policy, confirmed the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP) 3.0 document under development would incorporate trucking, railroads, and ports. Version 2.0 was released in September. 

As part of the updated guidance, DOT wants to better define terminology like “highly automated,” “self-driving,” and “autonomous vehicles” that are often used interchangeably, he said.

In opening the March 1 event at DOT’s headquarters, Secretary Elaine Chao said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will soon seek comment on what regulations need to be updated, modified, or eliminated to assist development of automated technologies in commercial motor vehicles. DOT said about 1,000 people either attended the session in person or viewed the webcast. 

Martinez makes debut as FMCSA chief

One day after taking the oath of office, FMCSA administrator Ray Martinez joined with other DOT modal chiefs at the summit to offer his perspective on automation.

He said FMCSA’s job is to “ensure automated vehicles are tested, developed, and deployed safely.” The agency will take a “flexible regulatory approach” and is prepared to reform any regulation that would hinder progress, Martinez said.

FMCSA is studying whether low-speed automation could help minimize detention times for truckers, and is “embracing a future where automated trucks can help reduce crashes” and stimulate economic growth, he added.

Spear scolds media for driverless hype

During the first panel discussion at the event, Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, said the media’s characterization of 3.5 million truck drivers on the cusp of being replaced by Level 5 driverless trucks is “absolutely ludicrous.”

“That is doing damage to our economy because our ability to attract new talent into the trucking industry is really impeded by this misnomer,” said Spear.

He was pleased trucking was being included in the new guidance, and cautioned against a patchwork of state and local rules that could constrain innovation.

Spear said the hype around driverless trucks requires fleets to go to great lengths to find new drivers, and makes it even harder to gain acceptance of new technologies with some skeptical older workers.

He later urged regulators not to “get caught up with what the media is saying … [that] we are going to be driverless tomorrow.” Instead they should focus on near-term questions, such as what Level 3 or Level 4 automation could mean for hours of service.

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.

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