Two pre-rules issued by DOT are calls for public comment on matters related to rolling out...

Two pre-rules issued by DOT are calls for public comment on matters related to rolling out autonomous-driving systems for trucks and cars.

Photo: AB Volvo

The Department of Transportation announced on May 22 that it is taking further steps toward removing “unnecessary regulatory barriers to the safe introduction of automated driving systems” on vehicles operating in the U.S.

The separate but related advance notices of proposed rulemaking (aka pre-rules) issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are calls for public comment on matters related to rolling out autonomous-driving systems “to ensure that all potential approaches are fully considered as the agencies move forward with these regulatory actions.”

It should be noted that descriptive terminology is not codified and eventually either makes its way into daily usage or sinks into obscurity. At this moment, DOT’s use of the term “automated driving systems” seems at least roughly equivalent to “advanced driver assistance systems,” a term widely used by car and truck makers when speaking of safety technologies that automate or partially automate specific vehicle functions to help prevent highway accidents. Both terms imply an embrace of technology that spans the various SAE levels of autonomous driving up to and including full automation (Level 5).

Also bear in mind that NHTSA is largely charged with writing and enforcing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which address the crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and post-crash survivability capabilities of new cars and trucks. FMCSA, on the other hand, regulates motor carriers with the goal of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.  

“One of the Department’s priorities is to prepare for the future by engaging with new technology while addressing legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation,” stated Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in a news release.

NHTSA’s pre-rule seeks comment on identifying and addressing regulatory barriers to the deployment of ADS-equipped vehicles posed by certain existing FMVSS. The agency said it is is also interested in hearing from the public on various approaches that could be used to measure compliance with the FMVSS for vehicles that are not equipped with conventional controls, including steering wheels and brake pedals. “Public comments received during this stage will help inform NHTSA’s path forward,” the agency noted.

The pre-rule released by FMCSA seeks public comment on questions related to several regulatory areas to help the agency “better understand how changes to its rules can account for significant differences between human operators and ADS.” 

These questions focus on such topics as:

  • Requirements of human drivers
  • CDL endorsements
  • Hours- of -Service rules
  • Medical qualifications
  • Distracted driving
  • Safe driving
  • Inspection
  • Repair
  • Maintenance
  • Roadside inspections
  • Cybersecurity

FMCSA noted that its pre-rule is part of the process by which the agency is “considering changes to its rules to account for significant differences between human operators and [vehicles with] ADS.”

“FMCSA is hoping to receive feedback from commercial motor vehicle stakeholders and the motoring public on how the agency should adapt its regulations for the development of increased automated driving systems in large trucks and buses,” said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez. 

“We know that while many of these technologies are still in development, it is critical that we carefully examine how to make federal rules keep up with this advancing technology,” he added. 

Both notices list a 60-day comment period, which will commence with publication of the  ANPRMs in the Federal Register. The public is strongly encouraged to submit their comments to the Federal Register dockets.

An advance copy of the FMCSA document is available here and for the NHTSA one, click here.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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