The federal government begins on April 24 what promises to be an involved and controversial process to regulate the safety of autonomous trucks when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) holds a "public listening session" in Atlanta to solicit information on issues relating to the vehicles' design, development, testing, and deployment.
The session will run from 9: 30 a.m. to noon EST in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. The hotel is located at 265 Peachtree Street, N.E. Interested parties will have an opportunity to share their views and any data or analysis on this topic with agency representatives, FMCSA said today in a statement.
Participation is free and open to the public.
The session starts the clock on an issue likely to be at the forefront of FMCSA's agenda, as well at its parent agency, the Department of Transportation, for years to come. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao is already looking "very closely" at the safety and commercial ramifications of autonomous trucks, Jack van Steemburg, associate FMCSA administrator and the DOT sub-agency's chief safety officer, said last week at the Transportation Intermediaries' Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas. TIA represents the nation's freight brokers and third-party logistics providers.
Various freight interests have urged FMCSA to establish uniform federal guidelines for regulating the safe operation of autonomous trucks, maintaining that leaving oversight to the states would result in a patchwork quilt of compliance that would be unacceptable given that the technology is relatively new.
FMCSA will have various issues to grapple with, the most important being whether it should require a driver to be in a vehicle at all times in the event of a computer malfunction, or if the technology is safe and effective enough to enable a fully autonomous operation, which is known as a "Level 5" condition. There are those in the transport field who believe FMCSA will never approve a "Level 5" type of operation, but that approval of operations in a semi-autonomous state, known as "Level 3," is feasible within a few years.
Another issue involves insurance, which are required of carriers and drivers. Insurance companies accustomed to underwriting policies covering human driving may struggle to appropriately price carrier operations that are semi-autonomous or autonomous.
Supporters of autonomous truck technology said it will be safer and more cost-effective because the human equation is being wholly or partially removed.