The Feds Release First Guidelines on Autonomous Vehicles: Trucking Industry Input Conspicuously Void

The trucking industry moves over 70% of the domestic freight in the U.S.  As we recently wrote, there is a strong push by technology companies to bring autonomous trucks to America’s roadways. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, by 2025 at least one of every three new heavy trucks will be either fully autonomous or have a high level of autonomy. Considering 2025 is less than ten years away, we may be on the precipice of a new age in transportation.

With the growing push for automation, on September 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the first federal guidelines for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles. These guidelines centered around a 15-point “safety assessment” process with the intent to ensure safety compliance. The policy requires manufacturers to establish how they are meeting federal requirements in 15 areas such as operational design domain, object and event detection and response, data recording and sharing and human machine interface just to name a few.

The guidelines were written with the input of truck manufacturers such as Daimler who have been on the forefront of this technology, and several others. Safety groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Safety Council have also largely supported the regulations. Deborah Hersman, chief executive of the National Safety Council stated, regarding the regulations, “[t]his policy gives carmakers and States the green light to innovate while keeping safety at the forefront.”

However, the groups conspicuously absent from the process were those who represent trucking companies such as the American Trucking Association. Chief executive of the American Trucking Association, Chris Spear, responded to the regulations on behalf of the ATA. “It is disconcerting that the department and the administration have developed these guidelines with virtually no involvement from the trucking industry,” said Spear and later stated “… any safety and highway infrastructure debate and regulatory framework that excludes trucking is incomplete.”

While Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx stated the policy is a living document which “leaves room for more growth and changes in the future” it is concerning that the largest end users of commercial autonomous vehicles were left out of the initial process.

One thing we can count on, especially when talking about the federal government, more regulations for autonomous vehicles will be coming down the pike in the years to come as this technology moves closer to realization. Due to the trade cycle for the industry, and if the McKinsey and Company study is accurate, it is very likely most trucking companies will have some autonomous vehicles in their fleets by 2025.

As the development and expected widespread usability of autonomous vehicles accelerates, we are remaining vigilant in keeping an eye on the road ahead. If you have any questions about the future of CMV autonomous vehicles please do not hesitate to contact us.

Brandon Howard is an associate at Roberts Perryman. Brandon’s practice is focused on Transportation Law & Litigation. Brandon is in the Springfield office.

Brandon Howard

Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL.

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