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March 22, 2018 12:45 PM, EDT

PHMSA Requests Input on Transporting Hazardous Materials With Automated Technologies

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The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has requested information on the use of automated technologies in the transportation of hazardous materials, according to a document published in the Federal Register March 22.

PHMSA has issued this request for information to ensure the safe transportation of hazardous materials “in anticipation of the development, testing and integration of Automated Driving Systems,” according to the document. The Federal Register notice cites the growing presence of automated technologies in the transportation system, particularly on highways and over rail.

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In the document, PHMSA stresses the importance of safety and testing as these technologies develop, and suggests that the Hazardous Materials Regulations are updated to account for these systems. The Hazardous Materials Regulations are designed to ensure that such materials are packaged safely during transport, to offer a communication line between transportation workers and emergency responders and to minimize the consequences of an incident.

The request for comments is meant to gather insight from industry experts and public organizations on how to best ensure these regulations consider automated vehicles in the transportation of hazardous materials.

“Although an exciting and important innovation in transportation history, the emergence of surface automated vehicles and the technologies that support them may create unique and unforeseen challenges for hazardous materials transportation,” the document states.

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PHMSA, which operates within the U.S. Department of Transportation, uses a special permit program to incorporate new technologies. These permits establish alternative requirements to the Hazardous Materials Regulations that, according to PHMSA, maintain the same level of safety as the initial rules.

“The hazardous materials community is at the cutting edge of development of new materials, technologies and innovative ways of moving hazardous materials. Innovation strengthens our economy, and new technologies and operational techniques may enhance safety,” the document states. “[Special permits] enable the hazardous materials industry to safely, quickly and effectively integrate new products and technologies into production and the transportation stream.”

DOT offers further background on automated technologies in the Automated Driving Systems 2.0 policy framework. Among other things, this framework outlines the levels of automation for motor vehicles. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said that updated guidance, known as AV 3.0, could be released this summer.