In late April 2020, a tech company by the name of Pronto.ai petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, asking that its motor carrier customers get an additional two hours of driving each day thanks to the driving assistance their technology provides. You can probably tell from the title of this article where that petition ended up: it took six months, but the FMCSA has denied the claim. The denial is a step back for self-driving trucking technology, but not as large of a step as you might be inclined to think.
Pronto.ai said that the added hours should not impact fatigue much because of the help from their technology, and because drivers would still follow all other hours-of-service regulations, especially the new changes that were recently made to the regulations.
The reason the FMCSA denied the petition/request was not that they have a fear of robot overlords, but because there was a lack of evidence that the assistant technology improved a trucker’s quality-of-life enough to justify another two hours of work in a day.
In their own words: “The premise that the use of advanced technology should reduce the workload on drivers appears reasonable on the surface, but the absence of data or information to quantify the impact on driver fatigue and alertness leaves the agency with no choice but to deny the application.”
This is simply conjecture, but it is possible that there was a secondary motive for the denial: competitive advantage. If motor carriers discovered they could get an extra two hours, which is anything from eighty to one hundred ten miles in a day, by purchasing a specific set of technology, Pronto.ai would generate a monopoly on the autonomous heavy-duty market and innovation would suffer.
There will probably come a day when driver-assisting technology expands the number of hours a trucker can be on the road. However, that day will probably be another decade at least. Self-driving vehicles have always been the subject of scrupulous testing, and rightfully so. The fact is compounded with heavy-duty trucks: when the gross weight is around 80,000 pounds, accidents should be avoided at all costs. With this fact in mind, it is likely we will see self-driving sedans and pickup trucks before it becomes common in hauling freight from coast to coast.
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