Autonomous trucks might be here sooner than expected, but getting the driver out of the cab is only the first step in realizing the technology's promise, says Wiley Deck, vice president of government affairs and public policy with Plus.
Deck is optimistic about one aspect of autonomous trucks: He believes the technology will allow for the driver to be safely removed from the cab by as early as 2024. But that’s not the whole story, he says. Other essential elements of a self-driving vehicle include perfecting the “smart” trailer, which must be able to communicate with the (empty) cab about the overall health of the truck, including the condition of brakes, wheels and tires.
In addition, that information must be made available to roadside enforcement and inspection stations. But the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance hasn’t even issued nationwide standards for that capability. And there’s still the issue of regulations that vary widely from state to state, so that a driverless truck might be legal in one state but not in another.
Ultimately, Deck says, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will have to come up with nationwide regulations that override those of individual states, creating a uniform system. “To ensure the seamless flow of interstate commerce they’re going to have to step in,” he says.
On the technology side, there’s still the question of how a driverless truck will put out road flares and triangles, as required by law, when an incident occurs and there’s nobody in the cab. That, too, will require a rule change by FMCSA.
For the foreseeable future, Deck sees autonomous trucks as operating mostly on interstates, minimizing their presence among large urban crowds. That scenario meshes well with the current driver shortage, where it’s most difficult to attract longhaul drivers.
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