You may remember that the FMCSA spoke at an ATA virtual conference about many topics, one of which was working to make self-driving commercial vehicles as safe as possible. But beyond safety, there are many more uncertainties to autonomous trucks. Will they resolve the supposed trucker shortage? Will it leave millions of truckers jobless? Will it have to deal with moral dilemmas like choosing to crash into 20 elderly people or one baby? Whatever your thoughts, the FMCSA hopes to help people better understand the technology before jumping to any conclusions.
Boon or Bane?
The currently planned methodology for assessing the current progress of autonomous technology involves a project called Trucking Fleet Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for Managing Mixed Fleets. Simply put, the FMCSA wants to know if people having hands-on experience with more autonomous vehicles changes their minds on how they feel about it.
Self-driving trucks are expected to “profoundly affect all commerce in the U.S., as the U.S. moves more than 70% of all goods by truck,” the Nov. 3 notice reads. Indeed, while moving cargo by boat and railroad are cheaper, the sheer versatility of the big rig allows it to transport goods much more effectively, especially in the last handful of miles.
There are many reasons why truckers may have differing opinions on the future of the trucking industry with autonomous vehicles. While the technology, when fully developed, will make trucking jobs easier, it will undoubtedly raise the supply pool of truckers in the United States.
The current plans from the FMCSA for CONOPS is as follows:
- Find volunteers for each of four road shows to be questionnaire participants.
- Technology Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting
- North American Commercial Vehicle Show
- SAE COMVEC
- Automated Vehicle Symposium
- Have them fulfill a specific pre-show survey depending on their category (Fleet Manager, Research, etc.)
- Have them test out the technology provided at the given station.
- After the roadshow, have them fulfill another survey.
The research team plans to conduct this project over 18 months with 2,000 different respondents. The FMCSA estimates the project will total to 263 man-hours.
To clarify, the FMCSA is not asking for comments in the Federal Register regarding your thoughts about self-driving trucks in general, but instead your thoughts on the project they are performing. To quote directly from the webpage:
“You are asked to comment on any aspect of this information collection, including: (1) Whether the proposed collection is necessary for the performance of FMCSA’s functions; (2) the accuracy of the estimated burden; (3) ways for FMCSA to enhance the quality, usefulness, and clarity of the collected information; and (4) ways that the burden could be minimized without reducing the quality of the collected information. The agency will summarize or include your comments in the request for OMB’s clearance of this information collection.”
Does it sound like a huge waste of taxpayer dollars on a technology that will not be here for another decade, or is it vital to shaping opinions and influencing adoption rates of autonomous commercial vehicles? Should the FMCSA not care about public perception regarding self-driving vehicles when the primary role of the administration is safety, or is autonomous technological adoption a safety issue at its core? If you have any thoughts on this proposed project, you have until January 4th to comment.