Ognen Stojanovski, Pronto COO and Co-Founder, discusses Pronto's CoPilot -- CCJ YouTube video
The time for completely unattended autonomous freight hauling via Class 8 trucks is still somewhere down the road, but because self-driving vehicle innovators are stuck with regulations requiring a "driver" (and sometimes an engineer as well) to accompany the vehicles on each trip they are beginning to ask for hours of service exemptions for those attendees.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently closed its comment period on one such request – by Pronto -- asking for an increase of drive time up to 13 hours in a 15-hour work day.
It's likely that a number of autonomous big rig innovators will be anxiously watching FMCSA's decision on Pronto's request; which may, or may not spur a host of similar requests for exemptions depending on the outcome.
What Pronto asked for in its request for exemption was a renewable five-year exemption to the 11-hour-drive-time/14-hour-window HOS restrictions that bind virtually all other commercial drivers in their work day.
Pronto suggests that companies employing Pronto's Copilot advanced driver assistance systems, their SmartDrive Video Safety Program, and other driver assistance safeguards, should be able to extend their HOS window by up to 2 hours.
The main pillar of Pronto's request rests on their foundational assertion that drivers of Pronto-equipped vehicles will exhibit a much-reduced risk of driver distraction and inattentiveness, as well as not experiencing cumulative fatigue or mental stress.
According to Pronto's request document sent to FMCSA, Pronto "does not request exemption from required rest breaks, the requirement for 10 hours off duty between duty periods, or the ’60/70 hour rule.’"
In short, Pronto says, "These technologies provide a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than would result from operation without the requested exemption."
According to Pronto, this increased safety would be accomplished by their technology, including:
Collision mitigation, including vastly improved systems of collision threat tracking and braking that can bring a CMV to a full emergency stop.
Technology to immediately identify an unresponsive driver and safely bring the vehicle to a stop on the shoulder, and alert the carrier.
Advanced adaptive cruise control at all speeds, including in heavy or even stop-and-go traffic.
Automatic lane centering on a proactive basis (versus reactive lane departure warning).
Real-time driver performance monitoring through video cameras and sensors to detect and immediately alert the driver and carrier of incidents involving distraction and inattentiveness, aggressive speeding, and related behaviors.
Objections to the exemption request
During the FMCSA comment period, there were some 258 comments; virtually all against the agency granting Pronto the HOS exemptions.
At the forefront of objection to the HOS exemption request was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association; which sent a letter to FMCSA dated May 20, the day that the comment period closed.
"Our members have a keen interest in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) as these technologies have the potential to drastically change the trucking industry, in particular its workforce," OOIDA's letter began.
"AVs are being touted as a solution by federal and state agencies that regulate the trucking industry to meet their goals of fewer crashes and zero fatalities. However, there is virtually no data supporting these safety claims."
OOIDA disagrees with Pronto's foundational assertion that additional driving and duty hours for attendees of autonomous big rigs will increase safety by reducing incidences of driver distraction, fatigue and inattentiveness.
In fact, OOIDA explained, many of the automated systems in use today like automatic emergency brakes, adaptive cruise control, driver-facing cameras and lane departure warning systems "actually increase the risk of crash in many cases."
OOIDA also denies Pronto's assertion that automated systems would allow drivers to be driving longer without suffering from stress or fatigue.
"Pronto’s exemption would increase the time-on-task without any real justification other than drivers will be driving longer but will have less stress because of safety systems that only work if the driver is fatigued," the OOIDA letter stated.
"Granting this exemption would put drivers at risk by exposing them to more hours behind the wheel."
Comments to Pronto's HOS exemption request came in from such industry entities as Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the Teamsters, Transport Union Workers of America, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Truckload Carriers Association, and a host of others, as well as from numerous individuals.
A sampling of comments:
John Smith Jr -- This exemption request by Pronto.AI should be denied. This is not fair that someone who can afford this product and put it in their truck could possibly get more time to drive in a day. It will most likely be megafleets who would purchase it and then be able to get better freight options. I thought you said that only 11 hours is safe. Do not give them 2 more hours to drive or another hour of on-duty. This company is just trying to sell their product by giving purchasers an unfair incentive. Please do not allow it.
This is absolutely ridiculous and should be denied.
CVSA -- While it is anticipated that the continued deployment of these technologies will improve commercial motor vehicle safety, at this time, using them as a justification for relaxing the hours-of-service rules is premature. These safety features are generally reactionary, looking to reduce the impacts of human error. Additional driving and on duty time increase the risk of fatigue and human error, regardless of what safety technology is on a vehicle.
Allan Reigert -- There is no way the average person is going to just sit there for hours on end and not become board. That person will fall asleep, start playing with electronic gadgets, watch tv, or move around inside the truck. None of these things should be considered safe.
The driver would also become complacent. They will ignore what is going on around them figuring the technology will deal with it. By the time they figure out whats going on, a disaster will have taken place.
There is already a lack of driver training. These drivers are pushed through cdl mills. Often times only being placed with a trainer that only had minimal training themselves. You will end up with a board, complacent, distracted, untrained driver that will not be able to recognize, react, or be able to take control if needed. The problem will be even worse if the driver falls asleep due to boredom.
If anything, less time at the wheel would be safer for these trucks, drivers, and the motoring public.
I truly hope you deny this request.
TCA -- TCA has consistently remained opposed to any requests to alter the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations in a way that would add hours to a driver’s 11-hour driving limit or 14-hour workday. Any additional hours a driver is forced to spend piloting a vehicle could cause them to become overly fatigued. It threatens the work our industry has already done to improve highway safety, and it could jeopardize the expected benefits from the ADAS technology.
Trish Tedrow -- I hear all the time about leveling the playing field. How will this exemption level the playing field. Someone can drive more hours a day if they have the money to pay for this equipment, which means they can make more money a day. I thought the FMCSA was about safety! In the name safety please DENY this request for an exemption.
Jamie Paris -- I'm against autonomous trucks. It's said that a person will be in the truck Incase there is a problem but what will that person be doing while that autonomous truck is driving? They may be paying attention the first few hours but then they will become bored and distracted. It wont matter if there is a camera on them. Even if they don't pick up their phone or a crossword book, their mind will wander and not be focused on what is at hand. Now you say you want to allow autonomous trucks longer hours on the road? How is that safe with this distracted person on board? I do not want these trucks on the road with my family on the road!
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