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FMCSA considers autonomous truck regulation

Autonomous trucks may soon be a common sight on the roads of West Virginia, but government agencies and industry groups have yet to decide how they should be regulated and how current rules should be modified to accommodate them. These issues were discussed during a session hosted by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance on April 24, and a number of trade and road safety advocacy organizations made their feelings known to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration representatives in attendance.

Hours of service regulations were a subject of fierce debate during the session, and a number of speakers called for these rules to be relaxed. They pointed out that autonomous commercial trucks provide drivers with more opportunities to rest, and they said that easing hours of service rules would encourage investment and lead to potentially life-saving technology being developed more quickly. However, not all research backs up these arguments. A study conducted earlier in 2017 suggests that operating an autonomous vehicle could be even more tiring than traditional driving because of passive fatigue.

A member of the board of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said that autonomous vehicle technology is still in its nascent stages, and he urged the FMCSA regulators to require the presence of human operators in even the most advanced self-driving trucks. Other speakers called for a commercial driver's license credential that would be awarded to drivers who have been trained to handle autonomous trucks in emergency situations.

Experienced personal injury attorneys may support technology that could reduce the number of deadly truck accidents that take place each year, but they could also oppose the relaxing of current regulations until autonomous systems have been properly tested and found to be safe. Truck accident lawsuits involving self-driving vehicles may also be more complex as litigation could be filed against autonomous technology firms as well as truck drivers or trucking companies.

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