A flurry of trucking regulatory activity is still expected this year, according to a monthly rule making update from the Department of Transportation. But some of the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s upcoming rules have again been pushed back, while some remain on track.
Here are the latest dates from the DOT report:
Electronic logging devices: A Final Rule mandating the use of electronic logging devices by truck operators is still scheduled to be published Sept. 30, according to the report. The proposed rule for the mandate was published early last year. Enforcement of the rule begins two years after its publication in the Federal Register — the date by which all drivers must begin using ELDs. The DOT report projects the rule to be sent from FMCSA to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation this month and then to be sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for its approval next month. Click here to read Overdrive’s coverage of the proposed rule.
Speed limiter mandate: A proposed rule to mandate the use of speed limiters on all heavy trucks is now expected to be published Aug. 27, per the report. The rule was sent to the OMB this week for approval. That’s a one-month delay from the DOT’s April report’s projection, though the rule’s expected action dates have been delayed continuously — the rule had been projected to be published as early as last summer at points. The rule, once in effect, will require the use of speed limiters on all trucks weighing more than 27,000 pounds.
Safety Fitness Determination: The agency’s rule to implement a scoring system for carriers that will yield an absolute score — rather than just the percentile rankings in the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program — has been pushed back again. It’s now slated for publication Sept. 9, another nearly month-long delay from the Aug. 17 projection in the DOT’s April report. The agency’s March report, however, had projected a mid-July publication date.
CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse: FMCSA’s rule to establish a database of drivers who have failed or refused a drug or alcohol test is still slated to be published as a Final Rule on Dec. 14. The agency published its proposed rule last year. Click here to read Overdrive’s coverage of the proposed rule.
Entry level driver training: FMCSA is now forecasted to publish an entry-level driver training rule Oct. 15. The rule would put in place minimum requirements for entry-level drivers along with minimum testing requirements. The rule is being produced be a so-called “negotiated rulemaking” with industry stakeholders.
Prohibition of driver coercion: The publication date for a rule to impose stiffer penalties on carriers, shippers brokers and others who coerce truck operators to drive in violation of federal safety is now projected to be published Sept. 25 publication date. The rule is projected to be sent to the OMB for approval in mid-June. Click here to read Overdrive’s coverage of the proposed rule.
The DOT report also includes projections for trucking equipment rules being produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Electronic stability control system mandate: NHTSA’s rule to require that all new trucks be equipped with stability control systems that prevent rollovers and loss of control accidents is projected to be published in mid-June. It is expected to clear the OMB June 4.
Fuel economy standards, Phase 2: The next round of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions regulations are in the works by NHTSA. The publication dates in the Federal Register do not appear to have been updated in recent months. The new standards would be for 2018 year model trucks and later.
Volvo opens its Think Tank
Volvo Trucks and its executives imagine tractor-trailer combinations where the trailer is smarter than the tractor and can operate independently. In fact they took the opportunity to share with clients and media their view of how different trucking can be in the future. The information session with Volvo C-suite executives took place during the North American leg of the Volvo Ocean Race hosted by Newport, Rhode Island.
“Why does the tractor have to pull everything?” asked Jeff Cotner, chief designer with Volvo Trucks in presenting a future vision where trailers can operate under their own power and, having no physical connection to the tractor, are free to join up with and follow the tractor in platoon formation with other similarly smart trailers and then break off and drive themselves to different destinations along the way, all done at road speed.
Essentially in such a vision trucking would operate similar to railroads with the driver in the lead vehicle monitoring the constant coupling and uncoupling of smart trailers in the platoon formation. Perhaps such a platoon of trailers can also include passengers in specialized trailers who, using an Uber-type booking system, can join the platoon if it’s heading towards their destination. Although the technology is still not there, passengers being part of commercial movements is not far-fetched. It already occurs in global ocean freight transport. Some container ships include berthing for passengers.
Cotner pointed out that in such a vision the trailer, which operates under its own power, replaces the truck in many situations and fleets will save money by not having to purchase as many trucks. Also in platooning situations where there is a driver in the lead truck but no drivers in the trailers that follow it, there are considerable savings in labour costs.
Such a vision would also likely require changes to the road system so that such combinations can travel in their own lanes, acknowledged Cotner, but Volvo is already working with California to on a bill that would allow for platooning of three to four trucks using sensing technology to follow each other in tight formation that would be considered tailgating under current legislation. By tightening up the following distance, significant drafting advantages are created which improve fuel economy and the advanced sensing and camera technologies onboard make it safe to do so, according to Volvo.
Cotner also wondered how autonomous vehicle technology – which enables the tractor to drive itself while the driver simply monitors operations, rests, or looks to other tasks while in the cab such as communicating with customers – would affect the profession’s image.
“What can we do inside the truck to make the profession more interesting? What can we do so the driver can have a better lifestyle but for it to also be good for business?” he asked. “Drivers stepping away from the steering wheel is coming – it’s not if but when. Does that make the profession more interesting? Does it allow owners to get better people?”
In the meantime, Volvo is using lessons learned by participating in the SuperTruck project to make powertrain and tractor fairing design changes which have made for a 3.5% gain in aerodynamics and a 2% powertrain improvement for specific applications.
As the inventors of the three-point seatbelt, Volvo has a strong tradition of focusing on safety and company officials vow that future technologies will continue that focus.
“Why do accidents happen? Why do some drivers have more accidents than others? We’ve been learning from accidents since 1969 and 90% are due to human error,” said Carl Johan Almqvist, director, traffic and product safety.
Distraction, alcohol, speed, and no seat belt use all contribute to accidents caused and the injuries and fatalities that result. Speed is a particular issue because the human brain is not equipped with a particularly good speed sensor, according to Almqvist.
“We human beings don’t understand speed at all. We don’t have a speed sensor. This is a challenge for us in traffic. Speed kills,” Almqvist said.
For example, when we come up too fast on slow-moving vehicles we often need to see a change happen – such as brake lights coming on – to recognize quickly enough the danger of the situation. Yet when we are distracted or look away and miss the brake lights coming on we may not react quickly enough and end up running into the back of the slower moving or stationary vehicle.
Almqvist said Volvo believes in employing technology such as Enhanced Cruise with Active Braking to support the driver in such situations. When a crash is imminent and the driver is not responding to alerts, the system takes over and brakes the vehicle to avoid the collision.
Looking further ahead Volvo Trucks wants to further develop its active safety technology with the aim of going beyond where human eyes can see.
“We are trying to create an artificial brain that can predict what’s going to happen (in traffic) and support the driver to keep him out of trouble,” Almqvist said. For example, Volvo is experimenting with technology that provides a 360-degree scan of the truck’s environment and takes over to avoid an accident. The driver missed the cyclist in the blind spot on his right and is about to attempt a right hand turn that will cause the cyclist to smash into the truck? No problem, the active safety system takes over and stops the vehicle from making the right turn.
Almqvist said such systems will be available five to 10 years from now.
He added Volvo Trucks has a vision of attaining zero accidents with its vehicles. T Almqvist doesn’t think that such an impossible dream.
“I think it is actually possible. This is where you get into mindsets,” he said pointing out that in 1997 Sweden adopted a zero vision for fatalities on its roads. Many scoffed at the impossibility of such a goal yet last year Sweden enjoyed no fatalities on its roads for 30% of the year.