FMCSA seeks comments regarding regulatory barriers for autonomous trucks

March 27, 2018

Tyson Fisher


As policies for autonomous technology in passenger vehicles continue to move forward, federal regulators are seeking input on regulations governing autonomous commercial motor vehicles. Addressing the issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is accepting comments aimed at identifying regulatory barriers to the implementation of automated driving systems on CMVs.

In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its autonomous vehicle voluntary guidance called “Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0.” Since interstate motor carriers and commercial vehicles fall under FMCSA, those guidelines do not apply to trucks. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require a trained driver behind the wheel at all times, regardless of autonomous technology within the vehicle, according to the guidance. However, FMCSA is now reconsidering that position.

“The absence of specific regulatory text requiring a driver be behind the wheel may afford the Agency the flexibility to allow, under existing regulations, (automated driving systems) to perform the driver’s functions …without the presence of a trained commercial driver in the driver’s seat,” FMCSA’s request for comments says.

Automation is broken down into six levels:

  • Level 0 – no driving automation, where the driver performs all driving tasks (e.g. most older vehicles);
  • Level 1 – drivers assistance, with the vehicle controlled by a driver, but some driving assist features may be included (e.g. vehicles with adaptive cruise control);
  • Level 2 – partial driving automation, where the vehicle has combined automated functions (e.g. acceleration/steering) but the driver remains engaged with driving tasks and monitors the environment at all times (e.g. Tesla’s Autopilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, GM’s Super Cruise);
  • Level 3 – conditional driving automation, where the driver is necessary but not required to monitor environment and must be ready to take over at all times with notice (e.g. Audio Traffic Jam Pilot);
  • Level 4 – high driving automation, where the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions, with the driver having option to control the vehicle (e.g. Navya shuttle buses; none commercially available); and
  • Level 5 – full driving automation, where the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions (none commercially available).

For the sake of this particular comment period, FMCSA is seeking comments that pertain to Levels 3-5 automation.

In April 2017, FMCSA held a public listening session to obtain information about issues with automated driving systems-equipped CMVs. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association submitted comments addressing several concerns with automated vehicle technology.

“FMCSA must consider unforeseen concerns and practices that might offset the potential safety, mobility, and sustainability benefits from (highly automated commercial vehicles) technology,” OOIDA Acting President Todd Spencer wrote in the Association’s comments. “These concerns include the impacts on the driver workforce, ensuring safety, data transparency, cybersecurity, truck platooning, and infrastructure funding.”

To read OOIDA’s 17-page comments, click here.

Attached to the comment request docket is a report compiled by the DOT’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center titled “Review of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for Automated Commercial Vehicles: Preliminary Assessment of Interpretation and Enforcement Challenges, Questions, and Gaps.” The report is a preliminary review of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations that relate to automated systems.

Volpe discovered several challenges within the regulations, including these:

  • Restrictions on the use of additional equipment or accessories that decreases the safety of operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce (part 393);
  • Restrictions on the operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce in such a condition as to likely cause an accident (part 396); and
  • Requirements for the driver of a CMV be restrained by a seat belt if the CMV is equipped with a seat belt assembly at the driver’s seat (part 392).

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations posing challenges more specific to completely driverless applications include these issues:

  • Applying existing training, licensing, and operating requirements (e.g., hours of service) to an onboard (nondriving) technician or a remote supervisor;
  • Applying knowledge requirements, physical fitness qualifications, alcohol and controlled substance restrictions, and hours- of-service restrictions to an automated driving system; and
  • Complying with cargo and equipment inspection requirements, particularly those that apply to CMVs that are in-transit.

To read the full report, click here.

According to the request for comments, FMCSA has the authority allow driverless CMV operations by way of waivers up to three months, exemptions up to five years or pilot programs up to three years. FMCSA’s request seeks to know how its current safety regulations may hinder the testing and safe deployment of ADS-equipped CMVs.

In addition to the issues address in the Volpe report, FMCSA requests information regarding the testing and deployment ADS-equipped CMVs in the following areas:

  • Inspection, repair and maintenance,
  • Roadside and annual inspections,
  • Distracted driving (prohibition against texting and using handheld wireless phones) and driver monitoring,
  • Medical qualifications,
  • Hours of service for drivers,
  • CDL endorsements,
  • Beyond Compliance program, and
  • Data sharing

Click here for the full request for comments docket. To comment on the docket, click here. Comments must be received on or before May 10.


Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.