Letter to House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Truck Technology

  • December 7, 2017
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

December 6, 2017


The Honorable Sam Graves, Chairman

The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Highways and Transit

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515


Dear Chairman Graves and Ranking Member Norton:

Thank you for convening tomorrow’s important roundtable, “Emerging Technologies in the Trucking Industry.”  In 2016, 4,317 people were killed in truck crashes.  This represents a 28% increase since 2009.  In fact, truck crash deaths are at their highest level since 2007. We are pleased that the Subcommittee is considering the lifesaving potential of proven and effective technologies that can prevent and mitigate crashes and save lives.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) has always championed vehicle safety technology, and for good reason. Since 1960, over 600,000 lives have been saved by motor vehicle safety technology. Similarly, we see tremendous promise in commercial motor vehicle (CMV) technologies to make lasting and meaningful reductions in the death and injury toll. While there has been a significant focus on autonomous technologies recently, it could be decades before that technology is mature enough to deliver the anticipated widespread safety benefits. However, several lifesaving and affordable technological solutions are available and in use in other countries that CMVs should be equipped with right now. It is clear that truck crashes, as well as the resulting deaths, injuries and costs, are a serious and growing public health problem which merits urgent attention and action.

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): Automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems, also known as forward collision avoidance and mitigation braking systems (F-CAM), help prevent rear-end crashes in which a truck or bus driver is distracted, fatigued or sleeping and there is slower or stopped traffic on the road ahead.  Forward Collision Warning (FCW) is a vehicle-based safety system that generates a visual, audible, or vibration warning for the driver in the event the driver’s vehicle comes too close to a vehicle traveling in front of it. In situations where the driver does not respond to the alerts, Collision Mitigation Braking (CMB) technology automatically applies the brakes through the electronic stability control (ESC) system to reduce the impact speed or prevent the collision. F-CAM systems combine FCW alerts with CMB automatic braking capability. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended forward collision avoidance systems and included Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Technologies on the 2017/2018 Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that requiring AEB could prevent 8,361 injuries and 166 fatalities each year. AEB has been required in the European Union since 2012.

In February of 2015, Advocates, along with the Center for Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition, filed a Petition for Rulemaking with NHTSA requesting the agency issue a rule to require AEB on all CMVs with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more. The agency granted the petition in October but has not taken any further regulatory action.

Recommendation: NHTSA should be required to expeditiously issue a standard for AEB.

Speed Limiting Devices: NHTSA found that between 2004 and 2013, there were on average 1,044 fatalities annually in crashes in which the speed of a heavy vehicle likely contributed to the severity of the crashes.  The agency has stated that “[s]tudies examining the relationship between travel speed and crash severity have confirmed the common-sense conclusion that the severity of a crash increases with travel speed. Impact force during a crash is related to vehicle speed, and even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact.” The agency concluded that limiting the speed of heavy vehicles to 60 mph could save as many as 498 lives and prevent as many as 10,857 injuries annually. In September of 2016,NHTSA issued a proposed rule to mandate the use of speed limiters in heavy vehicles but has not taken any further regulatory action. Again, other countries have led the way in requiring speed limiting technology, including Australia, Canadian provinces, and the European Union which has had a requirement in place for over two decades.

Recommendation: NHTSA should issue a final rule requiring speed limiting devices on all large commercial motor vehicles without further delay.

Electronic Logging Devices: In 2016, over 480,000 violations involving some form of hours-of-service (HOS) violation were issued to commercial motor vehicle operators — accounting for nearly half of all driver violations. Electronic logging devices (ELDs) provide an objective record of a driver’s on-duty time, while paper log books, frequently referred to as “comic books” throughout the industry, are easily falsified.  ELDs will increase compliance with HOS rules and improve law enforcement efforts. The NTSB has repeatedly recommended that all trucks and buses be equipped with ELDs as an effective strategy to improve the accuracy of carrier HOS records.  Nearly a third of trucks in service currently have some form of the technology installed. The estimated annualized net benefit of adopting ELDs is over $1 billion. Drivers subject to the HOS regulations must have an ELD installed in their vehicle by December 18, 2017.

Recommendation:  NHTSA should not delay full implementation or allow for special interest or industry-specific exemptions to the ELD rule.

Underride Guards: Underride typically occurs when a passenger vehicle strikes the rear or side of a truck trailer. In these crashes, the safety systems, such as airbags, may not deploy and even when they do the nature of the underride can negate the benefits which would have been offered by the safety systems.  Rear underride guards have been required to be installed on trailers since 1952 but the federal standard is dangerously outdated.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that nearly 15% of passenger vehicles fatalities in crashes with a large truck occurred when the front of the trailing vehicle struck the rear of the truck. IIHS similarly identified that four out of five crashes of this type involved underride, and severe underride was involved in a large majority of those crashes which were fatal. In December of 2015, NHTSA issued a proposal to modify the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) regarding the strength requirements of underride guards on trucks.  However, the proposal would not require that the guards meet the optimal standards already in use in the industry. In May of 2017, IIHS conducted the first ever tests of a side underride guard that successfully prevented a midsize car from going underneath the trailer.

Recommendation:  NHTSA should set strong standards for rear underride guards and require the installation of side underride guards.  In addition, the agency should commence research on the safety benefits of front underride guards which can help to prevent a truck from overriding a motor vehicle and then conduct a rulemaking.

Autonomous CMVs: The emergence of experimental autonomous CMVs (ACMVs) and their interactions for the foreseeable future with conventional motor vehicles demand an enhanced level of federal and state oversight to ensure public safety.  It is imperative that ACMVs be regulated.  If not, the development and deployment of ACMVs will be subject to the ineffective and unenforceable voluntary guidelines developed by NHTSA for new vehicles.  Moreover, the FMCSA has not even issued guidelines for the operating rules to govern the safety of ACMVs once on the road.  The lack of proper oversight clearly will have a negative impact on public safety.  Some experts predict that automated technology will be placed in CMVs before light passenger vehicles.  The potential for an 80,000 pound truck using unregulated and inadequately tested technology on public roads is a very real and dangerous scenario if these vehicles are only subject to voluntary guidelines.  In addition, automated passenger-carrying CMVs that have the potential to carry as many as 53 passengers will need comprehensive safeguards that will be unique to this mode of travel.

Recommendation:  In order to minimize major threats to the public and ensure that ACMVs are developed and deployed safely, they must be subject at a minimum to the following essential requirements.

  • Each manufacturer of an ACMV must be required to submit a detailed safety assessment report that details the safety performance of automated driving systems and automated vehicles.  Manufacturers should be required to promptly report to NHTSA all fatal, injury and property damage only crashes involving ACMVs.
  • ACMVs that do not comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) should not be sold and they should not be subject to exemptions.  Sales of CMVs in the United States do not nearly equal passenger vehicle sales and therefore exempting large numbers of CMVs from FMVSS is unnecessary for the development of ACMVs and will result in a potentially significant and needless threat to public safety.
  • NHTSA must require that manufacturers of ACMVs meet a “functional safety standard” to guarantee the safety of ACMVs.  This is a well-known process by which a product is tested to ensure that, as a whole, it will function safely and will prevent or mitigate defects or misuse which could lead to unsafe conditions.
  • Any safety defect involving the ACMV must be remedied before the ACMV is permitted to return to operation.  The potential for defects to infect an entire fleet is heightened with AV technology.  Therefore, manufacturers should be required to promptly determine if a defect affects an entire fleet.  Those defects that are fleet-wide should result in an immediate suspension of operation of the entire fleet until the defect is remedied.
  • ACMVs must be required to meet a minimum cybersecurity standard that should be issued by the Secretary within 3 years of enactment of the legislation.
  • CMVs and CMV equipment are powered and run by highly complex electronic systems and will become even more so with the introduction of autonomous driving systems.  As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has carried out for aircraft, NHTSA must require minimum electronics standards for all CMVs, particularly ACMVs.
  • The Secretary should be required to establish a database for ACMVs that includes such information as the vehicle’s identification number; manufacturer, make, model and trim information; the level of automation of each automated driving system with which the vehicle is equipped; the operational design domain of each automated driving system with which the vehicle is equipped; and, the federal motor vehicle safety standard or standards, if any, from which the vehicle has been exempted.
  • In the near term, rulemakings should be considered for elements of ACMVs that may require performance standards including human machine interface and the need for electronics and cybersecurity standards.  Standards for ACMVs should be required to be issued by specific deadlines set by Congress and before there is large scale deployment.
  • Manufacturers of ACMVs should be required at a minimum to have in place a privacy plan before an ACMV is sold.
  • For the foreseeable future, regardless of their level of automation, ACMVs must have an operator with a valid commercial driver’s license in the vehicle at all times.  Drivers will need to be alert to monitor not only the standard operations of the truck but also the automated system.  Therefore, the Secretary must issue a standard for driver engagement.  In addition, critical safety regulations administered by FMCSA such as those that apply to driver hours-of-service, licensing requirements, entry level training and medical qualifications must not be weakened.
  • Motor carriers using ACMVs should be required to apply for additional operating authority.
  • Drivers operating an ACMV must have an additional endorsement on their CDL to ensure they have been properly trained to monitor and understand the operating design domain of the vehicle and, if need be, to operate an ACMV.  This training should include a minimum number of hours of the behind-the-wheel training.
  • FMCSA must consider the additional measures that will be needed to ensure that ACMVs respond to state and local law enforcement authorities and requirements, and what measures must be taken to properly evaluate an ACMV during roadside inspections. In particular, the safety impacts on passenger vehicle traffic of several large ACMVs platooning on roads and highways should be assessed.
  • NHTSA should be given imminent hazard authority to protect against potentially widespread catastrophic defects with ACMVs, and criminal penalties to ensure manufacturers do not willfully and knowingly put defective ACMVs into the marketplace.
  • NHTSA and FMCSA must be given additional resources, funding and personnel, in order to meet demands being placed on the agencies due to the advent of AV technology.

Without these necessary safety protections, truck drivers and all motorists with whom they share the road are at serious and unnecessary risk. Advocates has always been a champion for technology and the advent of AV technology is no different. However, allowing technology to be deployed without adequate testing, oversight, and safety standards is a direct threat to the motoring public which is exacerbated by the sheer size and weights of large commercial motor vehicles.

It is time that the United States catches up with the other countries in making trucks safer for the public and commercial drivers.  The climbing fatalities and injuries make it imperative.  We look forward to working with the Committee to address these important issues and advance legislation that provides for the safe development and deployment of lifesaving technologies.



Jacqueline Gillan



Catherine Chase

Vice President of Governmental Affairs


cc: Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure