Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment

Will Driverless Trucks Have a Driver?

Will driverless trucks require an operator and, if so, what will that person do? Where will that person reside, in the truck or in some remote location? These are the types of questions inspired by the recent request for comments issued by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration); the federal agency responsible for regulating and ensuring the safety of the trucking industry [Note, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a similar request for comments on March 29th, 2018) .

Speaking at the 2018 SmartDrivingCar Summit, FMCSA Administrator, Ray Martinez explained that the request for input was part of FMCSA’s effort to understand the regulatory impediments for deploying automation in America’s trucking fleet. He indicated that this process is preparing FMCSA to adjust regulations in a timely manner as the market for automation evolves and new legislative rules are potentially put in place. Bryant Walker Smith pointed out that the SAFE DRIVE Act, which is currently held up in the Senate, does not address Commercial Motor Vehicles.

According to the NTTC (National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc), the nation’s 12 million Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) comprise only 4.6% of the vehicles on the road, but account for almost 10% of the vehicle miles traveled. 88,000 of these vehicles carry hazardous materials (regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). One thing that will remain constant as technology evolves for this market, according to Martinez, is FMCSA’s focus on drivers, vehicles and inspection in the context of safety.

Apprehension about automation’s impact on safety, employment and infrastructure is how Martinez summed up the input to the FMCSA’s request for comments. Manufacturer/suppliers, lobbying groups insurance companies and average citizens supplied feedback to the FMCSA’s questions. In general, the potential negative aspects of automation was a concern among citizen commentators, while industry and government entities provided nuanced responses that touted the potential benefits, as well as constructive ideas for minimizing the downside.

The rest of this lengthy post summarizes highlights from some of the 93 comments submitted to the FMCSA, split into the following categories:

Drivers of Some Sort Are Still Necessary #

The majority of comments from industry indicate that technology will not replace the driver anytime soon, as indicated by this comment from the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (also known as the Trucking Alliance, which includes major truck carriers, such as Cargo Transporters • Dupré Logistics • JB Hunt Transport • KLLM Transport Services • Knight-Swift Transportation • Maverick USA • US Xpress):

“However, the Alliance strongly believes that a properly trained commercial driver should be present in all trucks that incorporate advanced vehicle technologies.”

Tu Simple on display at CES2018.
Automation Retrofit [Click for Video]

The National School Transportation Association opposes automated driving systems for school buses, arguing that these yellow buses are already the safest form of transportation. They suggest that school buses are the largest mass transportation fleet, equaling 2.5 times the size of all other mass transportation combined. 480,000 yellow school buses transport 26 million children daily according to NSTA. They also believe it is critical that other CMVs be able to identify the yellow school buses.

The CVTA (Commercial Vehicle Training Association) concurs with the Trucking Alliance and the NTSA that the human needs to stay in the driver’s seat,

“However, CVTA does not believe any vehicle, be it passenger or commercial, should ever be deployed without an operator inside to assume control in a moment’s notice.”

At the same-time, CVTA argues that the technology creates the career opportunities for tech-savvy 18-20-year-old drivers who today cannot legally operate commercial vehicles involved in interstate commerce.

“Freight carriers are faced with a critical shortage of drivers due to, among other things, retirements, and truck safety technology provides an opportunity for FMCSA (or Congress) to reconsider the minimum driving age to operate a CMV in interstate commerce.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes a driver is a necessity and that the FMCSA might find  that, to ensure safety, there is a need for more rules.

The Travelers Company discourages Level 3 and below usage and doesn’t see much hope in technologies that will assure driver alertness if they need to take back the wheel. They believe that it might be possible to adjust  the hours of service regulation to reflect that a driver would no longer be “hands-on” with Level 4 and Level 5 automation.

As would be expected, Tesla believes FMCSA should interpret existing rules to mean that a Motor Carrier is the driver in a driverless scenario

“FMCSA should interpret the motor carrier to be the “driver” of a self-driving truck, because the motor carrier will ultimately assume most or all responsibilities to operate.”

And further, they suggest that a “driver” no longer must be human.

“Additionally, no Agency regulation requires a driver to be a human or natural person. A wealth of federal and state legal precedent supports that the term person includes non-natural persons, such as corporations, unless specifically limited.”

Robert Falck CEO of Einride interviewed at the 2018 GPU Conference.
Purpose-Built Driverless Trucks [Click for Video]

Perhaps Tesla should be careful about what it wishes for, as one person recommended that computer programmers receive a “driver’s license” for their code and would be liable for any problems caused by that code.

“The creator of the instructions should be liable, but most computer programmers don’t understand driving to the extent required to be prepared for it. I propose requiring a type of CDL for the individuals who work on the project and trace any event back to the line of code written that created the incident.”

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Inspections Are Still Necessary, But Requirements Will Change #

Telsa’s comments also suggest that many of the inspections now performed by humans can be done by cameras (probably more effectively than humans, as cameras don’t get distracted and could have an assist from AI).

The Travelers Company suggests that pre-deployment and road inspection will have to adapt to ADS.

The CVTA does not believe that the human can be eliminated from the inspection process and provides examples of the types of inspections that should be performed by humans and the new ones that will be necessary for HACVs (Highly Automated Commercial Vehicles).

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association also argues for the role of humans in the transport of freight  for the foreseeable future:

“CMV drivers are the face of their trucking business, they conduct critical pre-trip vehicle inspections, they secure the load being transported, they manage and report on the logistics of delivering the load, and they guard against theft of the vehicle and freight. Accordingly, we see a role for the CMV driver in the foreseeable future.”

While the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) expressed concerns about the impact on the workforce regarding automation, the potential for an increase in working hours among drivers and the importance of safety, particularly around hazardous material transport.

On the topic of hazardous material transport, he NTTC (National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc) believes that the

“FMCSA and PHMSA can allow for these vehicles while remaining true to their statutory missions by following the following recommendations:

  • A vehicular Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm to existing drivers and vehicles;

  • Don’t change what works: Existing rules for human drivers should remain in place;

  • Place Responsibility Responsibly: Technological changes provide an opportunity to examine which parties can now most efficiently ensure safe transport and place responsibility appropriately;

  • Move to a performance-based, operator-neutral perspective: While maintaining existing rules for humans, when possible, the FMCSRs and HMRs should be updated to performance standards that encapsulate the current rules for humans while holding automated vehicles driving (or assisting in driving) to an equivalent safety standard; and

  • Safe is Better Than Sorry: Ensuring the autonomous vehicle’s security systems are robust enough to prevent them being used as weapons by terrorist organizations or enemy nations.”

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Cybersecurity and Data Sharing #

To this last point about safety, cybersecurity was a common theme in many of the comments. It is important that new safety and security issues are not inadvertently created, as expressed by MITRE (an operator of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and similar public-private partnerships):

“Development of supporting specifications should be done as an open initiative to arrive at a shared industry approach to what can be provided and how, an approach that will be far from simple to define and will need a diversity of viewpoints to achieve good standards. The requirements need also consider active monitoring, not just data recording, given the new connected vehicles setting.”

Regarding security, an iinteresting question from Virginia Harlow asked whether the vehicles will be EMP hardened. This is probably relevant for any modern vehicle these days, autonomous or not, given their reliance on on-board computers.

Ken Pyle and Oliver Cameron talking open source autonomous vehicle testing.
Open Autonomous Safety [Click for Video]

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also suggests the FMCSA require public reporting of data (e.g. conditions, what the vehicle “saw”, etc.) involving crashes.

The IIHS’s stance on open data was echoed by MITRE and they suggested that the existing SAE J1698 standard could be extended to facilitate ADS-specific information:

“To ensure that data and safety measures can be assessed across the industry in a consistent way, MITRE recommends that FMCSA continue engaging with industry and exercise its broad authority to encourage and enforce data standardization for ADS technology to support safety analytics. Event Data Recording (EDR) technology specifically adapted to ADS and required in all ADS vehicles will enable this effort. This includes coordinating with SAE to extend J1698 defining event data recording for traditional ground vehicles to include ADS-specific information. Such information could include vehicle obstacle data obtained from sensors, control trajectories generated by behavior modules, and localization information determining vehicle location in the environment. Extending an existing standard and adapting it to ADS enables a backwards comparison to non-ADS CMVs.”

MITRE suggests that confidentiality will be paramount, and that the FAA has a similar policy for airlines and airplane manufacturers.

“All voluntary data sharing efforts will be moot without the appropriate legal protections. All voluntarily shared data from industry must be protected from disclosure and punitive action.”

Testing on public highways would be limited, if the Trucking Alliance’s view is followed:

The Trucking Alliance does not currently support the implementation or, in all but restricted instances, the testing of driverless tractor trailers on public highways.”

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Evolving SAE Definitions and Equipment Mandates #

As would be expected, the U.S. Department of Transportation John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe) provided the most detailed response including what could be considered refinement of the SAE driving levels:

Volpe definition of automation in the context of Commercial Motor Vehicles.
Volpe definition of automation in the context of Commercial Motor Vehicles.

Volpe suggest many of the challenges of operating CMVs may have to do with ambiguity of existing definitions.

“…many of these challenges or areas of ambiguities may stem from existing definitions and their application…First, the FMCSRs do not appear to contain an explicit requirement that CMVs be operated by a human driver, but instead present requirements that apply to human drivers.”

And summarized in those challenges in the following table:

Challenges of applying automation technology to Commercial Motor Vehicles.
Challenges of applying automation technology to Commercial Motor Vehicles.

Volpe makes a valid point that the regulations may need to change to reflect the actual duties of an onboard technician, as opposed to traditional driver

“As the industry faces driver shortages, automation may offer a way to reduce the barriers to entry into the trucking workforce, as long as regulatory requirements are tailored to emerging job functions and duties.”

The remote supervisor might be analogous to air traffic controllers (or more accurately, drone pilots) and rules around alcohol and fatigue would be applicable. Further, there might have to be rules that allow electronic transfer of information, as opposed to hard-copies (seems like an opportunity for Block-chain technology).

“Similar to requirements that drivers inspect their cargo, unmanned automated CMVs may also face specific requirements in the FMCSRs that drivers exchange hardcopy information with roadside Review of the FMCSRs for Automated Commercial Vehicles inspection personnel or provide hardcopy forms to their motor carrier. Though this issue could be addressed through the use of electronic records transfers, in their current form, such requirements, read literally, could present a barrier.” [Editor’s note: seems like a potential block-chain opportunity]

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) wants to make sure that the FMCSA includes state governments in the creation of new rules. Echoing Volpe, they suggest that different rules may be needed for various SAE-defined levels of automation.  .

The SBTC opposes any mandates of ADS equipment and all levels of automation from Level 3 to 5. Implicit in these comments is the SBTC believes this sort of automation is an existential threat to its members. This makes sense, as an independent owner-operator would probably have a more difficult time amortizing the common costs (e.g. control center, inspections, etc.) than a large operator could have.

“Small Business in Transportation Coalition is a 501(c) (6) non-profit trade organization with over 14,000 dues paying members from all 50 states and the District of Columbia….Additionally, SBTC believes Congress and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) should NOT mandate the use of ADS, as they have done with electronic logging devices. The FMCSA is proposing 5 levels of ADS interaction, and for the purposes of this Notice, is focusing on SAE Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation), SAE Level 4 (High Driving Automation), and SAE Level 5 (Full Driving Automation). SBTC opposes all these levels because we believe the more a driver relies on an ADS for any level of operation of the CMV, the greater the possibility of accidents and injury to the driver and other motorists.”

Richard Bishop's take on where automation in the trucking industry stands at AVS17.
Subtleties of Truck Automation [Click for Video]

That said, an owner-operator might find advantages to automation, such as being able to operate the truck for longer periods at a time or being able to support multiple rigs. Additionally, third-parties will probably develop an automation back-end to help the independent operators compete.

MEMA (Motor Equipment and Manufacturing Association) argues that AEB (automatic emergency braking) and V2X (Vehicle to Vehicle/Infrastrucure communications) are both required. They also contend that real-world testing of prototypes is critical and that, because trucking isn’t addressed in pending legislation, it is important for FMCSA to address:

“The ability for suppliers to utilize public roadways to collect data, refine systems, and fully test and evaluate new technology before systems are finalized is a critical industry need. As such, MEMA has strongly advocated for the automated vehicle legislation pending in the Congress – H.R. 3388, the “Safety Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act” (SELF DRIVE Act) and S. 1885, the “American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act” (AV START Act). There is important language in those bills that will establish a federal framework from which to build key policies and requirements to prepare for an automated future. Since CMVs are not included in the scope of those bills, agency coordination on ADS policies and potential rules impacting heavy trucks is that much more critical.”

They also urge FMCSA participation in world-wide standard bodies to make it easier for suppliers to design and build-once, instead of having to create a hodgepodge of components that largely perform the same function, but must adhere to different regulations

“To that end, we urge US DOT to explore how existing forums – such as the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) 1998 Agreement.”

The ATDD of NADA (American Truck Dealers Division of the National Automobile Dealers Association) suggests that what FMCSA calls barriers are, in fact, carefully crafted regulations to ensure safety.

Amazon’s comments were made in the context that they want to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Their comments discourage prescriptive rules and encourage the idea of an automation framework:

  • Promote performance-based standards
  • Develop a consistent multimodal regulatory system for surface AV technologies.
  • Provide consistent design and operating requirements nationwide and globally.
  • Develop federated, interoperable communications standards
  • Promote Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technical interoperability and performance-based solutions for safe vehicle operation
  • Modernize existing regulations and reject arbitrary requirements for AVs

SAFE (Securing America’s Future Energy) promoted the removal of deployment barriers to ensure a fast roll-out of autonomous vehicles and start reaping the potential safety and efficiency benefits as soon as possible.
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A Continuing Conversation #

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO jointly asked for a 60-day extension due to the topic’s complexity and that they needed to discuss with their respective memberships.

Recognizing the dynamic nature of this rapidly evolving automation space and recognizing that is is a complex, evolving topic, speaking at the 2018 SmartDrivingCars Summit, Martinez encouraged the public to continue providing input via the FMCSA’s website. He also indicated that there will be listening sessions in Michigan and California to elicit additional public comment. [added 7/12/18 – The San Francisco listening session will be today, 7/12/18, at 1:30 PM. It will be livestreamed on the FSCMA website at:]

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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One reply on “Will Driverless Trucks Have a Driver?”

This comments is from Princeton Professor, Alain Kornhauser:


I encourage you in what you are doing. My simple view on trucks includes:

two types : a) commercial “long haul” and b) local delivery. You are focused on a)
Eventually a substantial amount of local delivery will be done with driverless vans operating in the “wee hours” (midnight -> 6am)
For a)

The RoI for platooning is very bad for most carriers and owner-operators because too few “long-haul” VMT occurs at the same time, on the same roads, in the same direction among compatible carriers to even afford the opportunity to platoon. SO any savings is over at best single digit percentages of the “long haul” business. So total potential impact on the bottom line never gets to 1% for any carrier.

The most valuable contribution to automation is “Safe-driving Trucks” that focuses on AEB and automated lane keeping and intelligent cruise control that combine to substantially improve the work environment and the quality of life of truck drivers. Those technologies keep the driver safer, reduces stress and anxiety. They enable the drivers to use less stimulants and fundamentally improve their health.

The RoI of the Safe-driving technology yielding improved safety (reduced expected liability expenses) is 1 -> 2 years. FMCSA should seriously conside extending the Hours of Service (HoS) for drivers operating “Safe-driving Trucks”/ If so granted, that would reduce RoI to probably less than 1 year.

Driver cost are about 1/3 of total “long-haul” costs. While this is substantial, the value of the cargo being transported deserves some supervision which will need to be provided remotely if not from the on-board driver. Given the additional complexity of Driverless and the cost of high-quality remote monitoring it is going to be a while before any motor carrier will find it economically attractive to risk the deployment of driverless “long-haul” trucks.”

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