FMCSA Gets Earful on Autonomous Trucks at Atlanta Listening Session

April 25, 2017

By Jack Roberts

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Among the most common concerns at FMCSA's Autonomous Vehicle Listening Session were questions about changes to the Hours of Service rules and how actively engaged drivers should be while a truck is in autonomous driving modePhoto: Jack Roberts
Among the most common concerns at FMCSA's Autonomous Vehicle Listening Session were questions about changes to the Hours of Service rules and how actively engaged drivers should be while a truck is in autonomous driving mode. Photo: Jack Roberts

ATLANTA — A listening session held in Atlanta on April 24 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on autonomous commercial vehicles attracted a host of people from across the transportation industry,  many of whom expressed concerns about the impact this emerging technology will have on the health and role of truck drivers.

The agency is looking to craft regulations around autonomous vehicles that reflect real-world operating conditions for trucks, noted Daphne Jefferson, FMCSA deputy administrator. “Our goal," she added, "is not to impede progress, but for us as regulators to try to run alongside development as it moves forward.”

The listening session was held at a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance workshop and it drew public comments from law enforcement officers, truck drivers, fleet executives, OEM representatives, and new technology developers, such as Uber.

Time after time, the comments or questions asked centered on the human element of autonomous driving technology and how the industry will deal with changes in that area.

Among the most common concerns were questions about changes to the Hours of Service rules and how actively engaged drivers should be while a truck is in autonomous driving mode – and if it were even possible for drivers to stay properly attentive with nothing to do other than keep an eye on events as a truck guides itself down the highway.

Other notable concerns addressed included redundant safety features and resistance to hacking or computer viruses as well as roadside inspection questions.

Danny Hefner, director of safety and recruiting for MCO Transport in Wilmington, N.C.,  urged FMSCA to “slow down” on autonomous trucks, based on several concerns he has. “What if a steer tire blows,” he asked the FMCSA panel. “Is that truck going to be able to maintain a lane in that event? Next, we know this equipment will have all sorts of computer interfacing: satellites, GPS, all sorts of things?  Homeland Security needs to take a close look at this. One hacking could take down an important component of our national infrastructure. And what about maintaining these systems? We have our own technicians who are the greatest in the world. But as a person out there in the motoring public, can I trust the average technician out there to work on these systems?”

Tom Foster, a captain in the Washington state highway patrol and commander of the agency’s Commercial Vehicle Division, echoed Hefner’s comments, saying, “What if a retread comes off a trailer and damages a car behind it? I have some real concerns about not having a driver in the seat who is monitoring what’s going on. And if we get to the point where a driver is asleep, or at Level 5 where there is no driver at all, what do I have to do as a law enforcement officer to stop that vehicle? Or what does a citizen do if they want to pull the truck over because that blown tire broke their windshield? Do we have to wait for it to arrive at its destination before we can make contact? How do we interact with that vehicle as law enforcement officers?”

Uber’s Ognen Stojanovski is part of the team heading up the company’s recently acquired Otto division, which is developing autonomous driving retrofit systems for Class 8 trucks. He countered many concerns raised during the session when he noted that changes to existing training or safety regulations are unnecessary if someone is required in the driver’s seat when in autonomous mode.

Stojanovski said that as with conventional commercial vehicles, drivers operating a HACV (Highly Automated Commercial Vehicle) should, among other things, obtain a commercial driver’s license, satisfy all medical clearances criteria and background checks, avoid improper smartphone use while driving, log their hours of service correct and ensure that the vehicle has been properly inspected, repaired and maintained.

He said operators required to be behind the steering wheel of an HACV must be responsible for properly controlling the truck, monitoring the surrounding environment and safely using any onboard technologies — just like all drivers. "Existing regulatory measures already ensure drivers are trained and qualified to carry out these tasks. Indeed, we are already seeing safety benefits from this technology which require a driver to be engaged and attentive 100% of the time.”

Building on that theme, Stojanovski also said Uber feels it would be “highly beneficial” for FMCSA to recognize the fundamental distinction between highly automated trucks 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.

The entire listening session can be accessed here.

FCMSA will continue accepting public comments on autonomous commercial vehicles on its website until July 17, 2017.


  1. 1. John Costley [ April 26, 2017 @ 07:54AM ]

    what is the point of having a trained CDL driver sitting behind the wheel, receiving full pay, if the truck is automated ?. If he is going to need to be sitting behind the wheel anyway then why should any of us spend extra money on a truck that opens us up to potential liability in the event of a malfunction ?. We all know electronics malfunction, if they didn't then it wouldn't take a week to get a tractor in and out of a dealer for a "check engine light" repair. What exactly are the huge benefits to this that would make it worth it ?.

  2. 2. prtomr [ April 26, 2017 @ 08:53AM ]

    The day is rapidly approaching when truck drivers will be paid for their level of knowledge and responsibility which will be similar to that of airline pilots. Pilots sit for hours at a time watching automated systems do their thing. We trust them to do their job responsibly. We must start developing drivers that are up to this level of responsibility. The industry is going to have to make adjustments to new technology at all levels.

  3. 3. Paul [ April 26, 2017 @ 09:41AM ]

    To PRTOMR...with all due respect, do you REALLY think drivers pay will go up from this technology? I think they will use it to eliminate drivers and drive DOWN wages! Drivers will be replaced with 18 wheel babysitters at minimum wage! Safety? This isn't about safety....ITS ABOUT MONEY!!! as always! Just like ELD's . They won't begin to imagine the climb in accident and death rates when a damn machine starts telling us when to sleep and when to will have the exact opposite effect of what they're trying to do. Why are they doing this you ask? Because the big carriers want it and since ATA and most other trucking groups are owned by them, hey support it too. As always, it's the big guys trying to step on us small guys!!!

  4. 4. prtomr [ April 26, 2017 @ 11:35AM ]

    Paul, we live and operate in a capitalist society, so yes, you're right, new technology is always implemented with the idea of making more money. I would ask you to read the article again and consider all the questions posed, especially those by the Highway patrol officer, No one is going to hire a driver at "burger flipper wages" to manage an automated commercial vehicle get down the road with all its inherent risks and liabilities. Questions need to be answered and lots of training will be involved. Training these days is not cheap and it will necessary. Responsible people are willing to pay for well-trained drivers.

  5. 5. Mark Darling [ April 26, 2017 @ 11:51AM ]

    The people working on driverless trucks do not have a clue. Rule driver has to be alert, but I will bet they will be asleep, texting, If you think this will reduce collisions I think you are dead wrong. Remember 75% of all truck collisions are the automobile's fault AAA information. How about making it tougher to get a regular license. Thanks Mark

  6. 6. Paul [ April 26, 2017 @ 03:58PM ]

    Again I will say it will drive down wages on an already underpaid profession....look at it this way...emission laws in California and soon to be Oregon (SB1008), it has already driven out most of my fellow owner operators and the government continually having their big nose in our business has caused a lot of the REAL drivers to hang it up. If you do not get out on the road on a daily basis, you need to. You need to see first hand the group of as,,,.oles we have on the road today....courtesy is gone....replaced by a bunch of fools who don't have a clue....and when the eld rule takes effect, a lot more of us old timers will hang it up. Not sure what I'm going to do yet, but I do know I'm not going to let some pi ce of crap electronic box tell me when to sleep!!!

  7. 7. Carlton [ April 28, 2017 @ 02:25PM ]

    Paul, you are exactly right on everything you said. I totally agree and I am not into this modern technology and this ELD will put me out of business after 39 years.

  8. 8. Jawnee Logik [ April 30, 2017 @ 07:42AM ]

    @ prtomr,

    In regard to your first comment, I am in full agreement. I am a degreed engineer, but due to economic conditions, I am looking into becoming a commercial truck driver. I have always enjoyed long road trips and hope to see more of this wonderful country.

    I believe I will bring a somewhat unique perspective to the job. As my specialty was automation systems for offshore drilling facilities, I am more than familiar with the requirements for automating one of these class 8 vehicles. I agree that operators will need MUCH higher levels of training.

    To all the detractors: IMHO autonomous vehicle technology will not pose a problem for many if not most of the older, experienced drivers out there. You will likely be long retired before this technology is deployed in anything more than a pilot project in a tightly controlled environment. In contract, the environment that the average commercial vehicle operates in today in is far more complex than even that of a commercial airliner. I would guess that, at any given time, there are more individual motor vehicles operating on just one stretch of US interstate highway than the total of all the commercial airliners in the air, worldwide. We have global air-traffic control systems to monitor and control the operation of those vehicles and each plane still has at least one pilot.

    We are miles (pardon the pun) away from parity with the air transport industry.


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