Are Regulations Helping Or Holding Back Advanced New Safety Technologies?

As technology continues to change the trucking industry, there’s new promise on the horizon for everything from safety to productivity. But speed bumps remain. Do regulations help or hurt?

The fact is, things like automated vehicle technology shows great promise in reducing highway fatalities and delivering cost and fuel savings to fleets, yet in this case state driving laws are standing in the way.

State Regulations

Did you know that trucks move over $12 trillion worth of freight every year in the United States? While automated technology holds promise, without movement from state lawmakers, current driving regulations are standing in the way of things like platooning.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has put out a state guide that offers specific state-by-state recommendations on amending state statutes. Specifically, laws regarding following too closely will need to be amended to account for how truck platooning works.

While Utah and Florida have approved somewhat limited platooning pilot programs together, more states need to jump on the bandwagon. In states like Missouri, however, the programs are taking a step backward.

Regulating Uber’s Entry

The next step in understanding how regulations and technological advancement may affect trucking safety is to look at Uber’s recent purchase of Otto, a self-driving truck startup.

With Uber is getting ready to test self-driving cars, what do they have planned where large commercial vehicles are concerned? Just ask former Google executive Anthony Levandowski. “Together with Uber,” he says, “we will create the future of commercial transportation.”

This is a tall order, no doubt. Also consider that Uber is still trying to make its way in city and state jurisdictions who are still fighting it. Considering safety regulations are not yet even in place, one can only wonder how they will manage their autonomous truck program.

The Wild, Wild West

It is extraordinarily difficult to write an authoritative article regarding how automated technologies, safety and regulations are all playing out in the trucking realm.

Things are moving so quickly that everyone from city councils to truck manufacturers to federal officials are running at a brisk jog just trying to keep up.  While freight orientated interests are deep in the minds of the industry, everything will be drastically affected by this push towards greater operation and advanced trucking technologies.

Still, regulators and industry insiders are tossing arguments back and forth for and against the various technologies involved. Are we seeing a different kind of “VHS vs Betamax” battle, but this time in the trucking sector?

What Kind of Radar?

The new stage for debate lies in the types of radar used in platooning and semi-autonomous technologies. On one side you have proponents of lidar (light detection and ranging) and conventional camera and radar combination systems.

The main difference between the two is that lidar uses lasers as the radar agent. This system is also more expensive than the conventional camera/radar combo.

Still, advances are being made. Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu have joined their efforts to improve lidar technology. They are putting their money behind a Silicon Valley startup who is focusing on enhanced 3D surveillance, response and mapping options. Their goal is to mass produce high performance, but inexpensive lidar systems.

The Federal Vacuum

There are currently no federal rules aimed specifically at autonomous vehicles or the safety issues surrounding them. This lack of federal control leaves the states to create their own patchwork of rules and regulations.

In what is no surprise to anyone, California is already forging ahead with its own rules – how all of these state’s moves will mesh once the Feds set in is anybody’s guess.

However this all turns out, the technological innovations taking place in trucking aren’t appearing to be letting up anytime soon. How will safety regulations and truck platooning pan out over time? We’ll be right back here reporting on it once we have that answer for you.