Trucking regulators prepare for an automated future

Automation has potential to improve safety and reduce costs, agency believes

Posted January 17, 2018

The future of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) safety will depend on technology that helps drivers do their jobs, according to the head of research and technology at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

“We believe automation has the potential to save thousands of lives,” said Kelly Regal, Ph.D., the FMCSA’s Associate Administrator for Research and Information Technology, speaking January 9 at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Automatic emergency braking, truck platooning, cybersecurity, “smart parking,” and many other technology issues are on the FMCSA’s research agenda for coming years.

“Technology is the next frontier,” noted Cathy Gautreaux, the FMCSA’s Deputy Administrator.

Besides improving safety, automation can improve the economy by reducing transportation costs, Regal said. Truck platooning, for example, where a lead truck communicates with closely following trucks to affect their throttles and brakes, could result in significant fuel savings.

During her presentation, Regal laid out some of the many activities the FMCSA is currently engaged in that will lead to a more automated future for CMV operations:

Gathering information:

  • Meeting with stakeholders in various forums and gathering public feedback;
  • Reviewing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) to look for potential conflicts with the deployment of automated CMV driving system;
  • Asking the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to provide recommendations on the issues the agency should consider to make sure the FMCSRs include appropriate standards for the safe operation of highly automated CMVs, from design and development through testing and deployment;
  • Participating in automation-related working groups and engaging with manufacturers, engineering forums, state legislatures, and industry associations; and
  • Conducting site visits and ride-alongs with truck manufacturers and technology companies testing CMVs equipped with automation technologies.

Conducting research:

  • Researching the human factors that can affect automation;
  • Collaborating with other DOT agencies on research projects, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration;
  • Researching automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems in particular, and how AEB can fit in with the agency’s “Beyond Compliance” program (the agency hopes to get AEBs installed on at least 90 percent of new CMVs);
  • Developing a set of cybersecurity “best practices” to minimize cyber risks in CMV technology systems; and
  • Collecting data for many of the FMCSA’s 29 active research projects, as listed on the agency’s website.

Doing field demonstrations:

  • Truck platooning demonstration projects are underway in 16 states. A demonstration recently performed on I-66 in Virginia with three commercial trucks showed promising results. “We saw the platooning technology work flawlessly,” said Robert Tershak of the Virginia State Police, who worked closely with the FMCSA on the demonstration.
  • Research on low-speed automated truck queues could eventually lead to reduced detention time for drivers.

Regal noted that version 3.0 of the DOT’s Automated Driving Systems guidance is expected later this year and will help guide the FMCSA in its path toward CMV automation. The document will be posted on the NHTSA website.

This article was written by Daren Hansen of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.


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