Report reveals regulatory barriers for commercial vehicle automated system

April 2, 2018

Tyson Fisher


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are likely to get in the way of automated technology, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. The Volpe report came out the same time the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration started seeking comments about regulatory barriers to advancing automated technology.

To determine how much FMCSRs could delay autonomous vehicle technology, FMCSA instructed Volpe to review the regulations. As the Volpe report states, FMCSRs “were drafted without consideration for the possibility that they might one day apply to commercial vehicles that are either partially or entirely driven without input from a human driver, or even without a human driver onboard.”

Volpe analyzed the regulations and applied them to three types of autonomous vehicle technologies: Those that require a driver, those that require some type of onboard technician, and autonomous vehicle tech that requires no human operator onboard at all. Although it may be decades before completely unmanned trucks hit the road, Volpe’s inclusion of that technology in the report “does not suggest that they are likely, or even possible, under the current regulatory environment, but rather that they are worth considering as part of a future scenario, however far-reaching, for the development of automated CMVs.”

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. Audi 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).

Volpe further compartmentalized automation for the report in the following way.

Definition of ‘driver’

Across all automation levels, the biggest hurdle for autonomous vehicle technology is how the regulations define a “driver.” Among the regulations Volpe identified as potential issues, many of them could be resolved by defining a driver less ambiguously to include unmanned applications.

FMCSRs do not explicitly state that a commercial vehicle must be operated by a human driver. However, certain requirements do apply to a human driver, e.g., regulation that requires a driver to inspect cargo within first 50 miles. Therefore, the requirement of a human driver is implied.

According to FMCSR Part 390.5, “driver” is defined as “any person who operates any commercial motor vehicle,” and “person” is defined as “individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any other organized group of individuals.” Open to interpretation, these definitions may or may not pertain to onboard technicians not expected to drive, manufacturers of automated systems, humans remotely supervising unmanned autonomous vehicles, or a combination of human driver and automated systems.

If a driver includes onboard technicians, higher concept categories F and G will have more barriers. If a driver is required to have operating functions, then concepts D through G could face regulatory problems.

Conflicts with human driver requirements
Part 380 of the regulations requires student drivers to pass a knowledge and skills test. Even if the automated system is included in the “driver” definition, this particular section can cause some problems. Furthermore, an onboard technician not required to perform driving functions may not need certain knowledge and skills.

Under Part 382, drivers must undergo controlled substances and alcohol testing. Volpe found complications with how this may apply to onboard technicians who do not drive the truck. Although technicians may be involved in a safety-sensitive function, such functions should be clearly defined for autonomous vehicle applications.

Drivers are required to obtain a CDL before operating a commercial vehicle. Definitions of who or what is a driver can pose problems for unmanned vehicles. Will an automated system be required to have a CDL? Similarly, Part 391 establishes requirements for drivers, including age and knowledge of securing cargo.

Part 392 requires a driver to wear a seatbelt. This may be problematic for onboard technicians of highly autonomous trucks who can move about the cab.

Lastly, hours of service regulations are in place to keep drivers from getting fatigued while driving long hours. Will HOS regs apply to those supervising fleets remotely? If so, can the same truck drive indefinitely after a supervisor shift change?

Inspections, documentation and securing cargo
Many FMCSRs require drivers to produce documents during an inspection. However, what if no driver is inside the vehicle?

Part 325 outlines inspection procedures to determine compliance with noise emission standards. Specifically, drivers are to do the following: “With the motor vehicle’s transmission in neutral and its clutch engaged, rapidly accelerate the vehicle’s engine from idle to its maximum governed speed with wide open throttle. Return the engine’s speed to idle.” An unmanned vehicle may not be capable of performing these specific functions as instructed.

Driving in areas on the United States-Mexico international border? Drivers may show proof of certificate of registration if requested. Driverless systems will need to find a way to comply.

Those transporting household goods are required to prepare an inventory and to document any damage, per Part 375 of the FMCSRs. Unmanned vehicles may find this difficult to accomplish with no human present.

Part 392 requires a driver to “inspect the cargo and the devices used to secure the cargo within the first 50 miles after beginning a trip” and to reexamine when the driver makes a change of duty status, driven for three hours or driven for 150 miles, whichever occurs first. Again, no driver present poses an issue.

FMCSA requests comments
FMCSA seeks comments on how FMCSRs may act as barriers for automated systems.

In addition to the issues addressed in the Volpe report, FMCSA requests information regarding the testing and deployment automated driving system-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.

The full Volpe report can be found here.