Automation and New Vehicle Technology Bring New Challenges

'It Is a Transition That is Quite Complicated'
Autonomous panel at SSHR 2024
Panelists (from left) Tim Lafon of Solera, John Steiner of Mecanica Scientific Services and Chas Wurster of PrePass discuss automation trends in trucking at SSHR 2024. (American Trucking Associations)

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PHOENIX — The amount of safety technology available to fleets has exploded over the past 20 years, creating a new intersection of safety, technology and regulation that is becoming even more complex as autonomous solutions increase.

“It is a little bit of the Wild West with applying advanced controls that are designed to either assist a driver actively driving a vehicle or drive a vehicle with no one there. It is a transition that is quite complicated,” said John Steiner, CEO of Mecanica Scientific Services.

Steiner, Chas Wurster, chief technology officer for PrePass, and Tim Lafon, vice president of regulatory affairs for Solera, took part in a panel discussion on automation during American Trucking Associations’ Safety, Security and Human Resources National Conference and Exhibition.

Steiner said the transition from traditional mechanical systems to autonomous technology will have a few bumps in the road, starting with driver acceptance and understanding.

Drivers already are using semi-autonomous functions, such as lane-keeping assistance, collision warnings and automatic braking, increasing the need for education on technology’s capabilities.

“What we’re seeing in the fleets now is a discontinuity between what the drivers think it can do and the reality,” Steiner explained.

Automation also will bring change to daily vehicle inspection reports and how drivers conduct inspections.

“Drivers now know how to do an inspection,” Lafon said. “Now, if you’re doing drive-by-wire, what does that look like? How do you inspect it? Is there something you have to run, like a test, to ensure that it is running correctly?”

If a crash occurs, carriers need to be prepared for a new type of conversation.

“When something goes wrong, not only does the fleet want to know the why, but if there is some contribution from the vehicle or technology, the manufacturer wants to know,” Steiner said. “It is a really complicated mess.”

First responders will need training on how to approach new technologies, and carriers or drivers also may have to let responding officers know if the vehicle was driving.

Regulations surrounding autonomous technology are changing rapidly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released guidance on automation.

“They said we don’t need FMVSS [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards] to regulate automation. We have the safety-related defense,” Lafon said, adding that FMVSS may come later.


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Wurster said states operate differently from each other on allowable technologies, which will affect the adoption. For example, California does not allow the use of fully autonomous solutions.

Lafon said the trucking industry has been adjusting to the evolution of safety technology and regulations for more than 100 years and will continue to adapt.

“The environment changes. There are new challenges. There are new learnings,” he said.

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