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Feds unveil guidelines for autonomous trucking

The federal government unveiled guidelines for driverless trucks.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Ever since driverless passenger vehicles were developed, the question shifted to the trucking industry and what role, if any, these vehicles might play.

Even though transporting freight is vastly different than being behind the wheel of a four-door sedan, the question of autonomous trucking was a natural one. 

Toward the end of September, regulators from the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the first ever guidelines for autonomous trucks and cars. These guidelines will seemingly give manufacturers the incentive to move forward with their plans to further develop this technology.

The federal government believes driverless vehicles will lead to increased safety on the roads, as 94 percent of accidents can be attributed to human error.

Regulators proposed a 15-point safety assessment that will be used by manufacturers and other organizations to lead to safe designs, development, testing and implementation of the trucks.

"Level five indicates a true driverless vehicle."

A five level scale has also been developed, with each level representing the sophistication of autonomous vehicles. For example, level three indicates a truck can perform some driving tasks but with a human still behind the wheel. Level five indicates a true driverless vehicle.

Safety organizations also applauded the move.

These guidelines come at a time when the writing has been on the wall concerning driverless trucks. From Ford to Daimler Trucks, manufacturers have already been testing the autonomous technology. And with federal guidelines now unveiled, Jessica Nigro, spokesperson for Daimler Trucks, said in an interview with Trucks.com that the hope is this will avoid uncertainty over how to proceed.

"This kind of collaborative environment between the federal government, state and municipal entities and industry often leads to swift and safe adoption of technologies that are beneficial to society in a way that avoids a nationwide patchwork of varied and potentially conflicting laws," said Nigro.

Questions exist

However, not everyone in the transportation industry embraced the guidelines. In a press release, American Trucking Associations CEO Chris Spear voiced his concerns, reported Trucks.com.

"It is disconcerting that the department and the administration have developed these guidelines with virtually no involvement from the trucking industry," said Spear.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx did say he expects and welcomes vigorous input from the trucking industry moving forward.