A top Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration official told safety executives attending a commercial vehicle safety conference that a proposed rulemaking for fully automated heavy trucks is targeted for later this year. However, he cautioned, “That’s our target date, but don’t hold me to it.”
Such is the nature of the rulemaking process, which can take years to complete.
“There’s so many hoops to go through, because we have to write it, it’s got to get out of our agency, it’s got to go to Secretary Pete’s office, then it’s got to go to the White House, and back and forth, and forth and back,” said Jeff Loftus, chief of FMCSA’s Technology Division, during a June 2 session of the Midwest Commercial Vehicle Safety Summit in Kansas City, Mo. (‘Secretary Pete’ refers to Department of Transportation head Pete Buttigieg).
FMCSA began seriously addressing autonomous trucks in 2017 with public listening sessions and recommendations from one of its advisory committees. In 2019, it issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on how to safely regulate automated truck activity, including driver standards and maintenance programs.
Now, Loftus said, automated truck testing is ramping up fast, advancing to 28 states. Much of the testing is taking place in the Texas Triangle of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, along Interstate 10 going from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla, or in Arizona. Across these tests, more than 100 trucks have been retrofitted with self-driving technology, and all use safety drivers.
He noted, however that there has been some driver-out testing. For example, Loftus said autonomous developer TuSimple in late 2021 made seven 80-mile trips along open interstate between Tucson and Phoenix during overnight hours with no driver. There were, however, state patrol officers traveling nearby.