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Agency issues new guidance for automated vehicles; FMCSA to seek input on regulatory gaps

The U.S. Department of Transportation released fresh guidance for automated vehicles on Oct. 4 that gives insight on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s upcoming actions to promote the technology.

DOT said the document is not meant to replace earlier guidance, but instead build upon that foundation while working through various issues that need to be solved across multiple modes of transportation.

“The safe integration of automated vehicle technology into our transportation system will increase productivity, facilitate freight movement and create new types of jobs,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

While the document stresses DOT has no desire to over-regulate the trucking industry, it does state “FMCSA retains its authority to take enforcement action if an automated system inhibits safe operation.”

However, moving forward, FMCSA “will no longer assume that the CMV driver is always a human or that a human is necessarily present onboard a commercial vehicle during its operation.

FMCSA also plans to begin an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to address regulatory gaps, including in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for advanced driver safety systems and automated technologies.

Robbie Diamond, CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), said in a statement “the administration’s clarification of a ‘driver’ has removed barriers to innovation in the heavy-duty space.”

Similarly, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) said DOT’s “plan to update safety standards and streamline and modernize the exemption approval process for automated vehicles is a positive step forward.”

“This is a sound and substantive framework that rightly recognizes commercial vehicles are essential to any serious AV policy,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations.

On the flip side, Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the guidance moves “our nation’s AV policy in reverse. AV manufacturers will continue to introduce extremely complex, supercomputers-on-wheels into the driving environment with meager government oversight and accountability.”

Meanwhile, DOT also said it is continuing “its work to preserve the ability for transportation safety applications to function in the 5.9 GHz spectrum.” This has long been a goal of trucking industry leaders.

The guidance document outlined a number of other upcoming regulatory steps:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to request public comment on a proposal to streamline and modernize the procedures it will follow when processing and deciding exemption petitions.

The Federal Highway Administration will update the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in order to factor in new connected and automated vehicle technologies.

The Federal Railroad Administration will research and demonstrate how to improve highway-rail crossings for automated technologies.

The Maritime Administration and FMCSA are evaluating the regulatory and economic feasibility of using automated truck queueing at ports.