FMCSA Outlines Truck Inspection Automation, Other Research

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Wednesday provided updates on a number of projects from its analysis, research and technology divisions, including a focus on crash factors, analysis of new carriers, autonomous trucks and other advanced driver assistance technologies, and more.

At the agency’s annual Analysis, Research and Technology (ART) Forum, FMCSA Associate Administrator Tom Keen asked stakeholders to “take an introspective look at your current programs to determine what is working to improve safety and what is not, and to all appropriate corrections.”

Bob Crieb, director of FMCSA’s Office of Analysis, Research and Technology, said even as autonomous trucks and other technologies advance, FMCSA will continue to focus its research and efforts on driver issues and improving driver safety because “while ADS vehicles continue to mature, we know that human drivers will be at the heart of motor vehicle operations for many, many years to come.”

Still, the four-hour forum saw FMCSA’s technology division focus heavily on initiatives “that could dramatically change how drivers interact with their vehicle, how vehicles are inspected, and how potential future vehicles with autonomous driving system (ADS) can interact with law enforcement,” Krieb said.

As such, several initiatives related to autonomous driving are being developed – these include an ongoing “CMV Automated Evaluation Program” that tests autonomous vehicles and conducts research to inform potential future rules.

The agency is also continuing to develop the Level 8 electronic inspection that will be required for any fully autonomous vehicle. Continuous checks are envisaged to be carried out electronically while the trucks are in motion, with no direct interaction with law enforcement other than data exchange. Vehicle information can be checked against databases and used to make detour and inspection decisions.

FMCSA Transportation Specialist Tom Kelly outlined how Tier VIII electronic inspections will be developed and implemented.

[Related: Connecting the dots: FMCSA’s electronic-ID questions, Level 8 electronic inspections and autonomous trucks]

Policy update, other ongoing research

Kim Lambert, FMCSA’s acting director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Regulations, opened the meeting with several regulatory initiatives under development, including work on potentially overhauling carrier safety ratings and speed limiter mandates, and automatic emergency stop.

In terms of operator safety rating, also called determination of fitness for safetyLambert said the upcoming rulemaking “will seek input on how the agency can use data and resources more effectively to identify unfit carriers and remove them from our roads.”

FMCSA speed limiter proposalFMCSA is proceeding with a heavy-duty vehicle speed limit notice of proposed rulemaking that would require trucks to be limited to a yet-to-be-determined speed, as explained by Kim Lambert, FMCSA’s acting director of the Office of Strategic planning and regulations.As shown in the image from the presentation, Lambert said the FMCSA continues to study mandatory speed limits. She said the new proposed rulemaking “will request comment” on requiring every truck with an ECM capable of speed control to use it. The speed setting “will be determined by rulemaking,” she added.

[Related: Speed limiters: How fast is too fast?]

FMCSA is also working on a joint rulemaking with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in response to a congressional directive to require automatic emergency braking systems. Lambert said NHTSA is developing a rule that will cover performance standards for truck AEB systems, and the FMCSA rulemaking proposal “will cover the motor carrier’s responsibility to maintain” the system.

Among other initiatives the agency is looking at is the effect of the length of a driver’s medical license on safety. Terri Hallquist, a mathematical statistician with the FMCSA, said that when analyzing data from 2014 to 2020, the FMCSA found that drivers who obtain a full two-year medical certificate have the lowest crash rates compared to drivers with shorter certificates .

“The driver medical screening process is working,” she said. “The greater the length of the MEC, the lower the risk of a crash.”

FMCSA’s Research Division also studies the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program for interstate drivers under 21, ongoing retention and compensation studies, and the effectiveness of third-party CDL tests.

For the Analysis Division, key priorities include the agency’s Crash Causation Program, a closer look at crashes near truck parking spaces, and analysis of new carriers.

With the average monthly number of registered new entrants rising from about 8,500 to 17,000 between 2018 and 2021, FMCSA wants to examine crash statistics for new carriers and plans to compare new entrants to more established ones carriers to determine differences in safety performance.

[Related: ‘It’s a business model: Chicago-area carrier allegedly scams, strands driver]

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