Self-driving tech firms Waymo and Aurora have requested a five-year exemption from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations. These regulations require reflective triangles to be placed behind big rigs within 10 minutes of stopping. The two companies have proposed a solution; their motor carriers should equip truck cabs with flashing warning beacons rather than using triangles or flares at night. The beacons would be activated when a truck stops along the side of the road. Other AV companies such as Nuro and Cruise have sought exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards, however, this is the first time two self-driving technology companies have jointly requested a rule exemption.
Once published, the general public will have 30 days to comment on the exemption request made by Aurora and Waymo, and for approval, the companies must demonstrate that their proposed beacons achieve a safety level that’s equivalent to or greater than safety levels reached by conventional vehicles already on the road, according to FMCSA. Unlike Waymo, Aurora has prioritized the commercial launch of self-driving trucks, with plans to follow up with robotaxis at a later date. However, the timing of the approval by FMCSA could affect how Aurora proceeds with its planned commercial, self-driving launch, which they expect to happen by the end of 2024.
Waymo, on the other hand, has not yet announced a timeline for launching self-driving trucks. The company has stated that it is first focusing on its existing robotaxi business. Internal delays have caused their timeline for self-driving trucks to be slightly delayed, following a reduction in staff in January.
Previous attempts at creating digital replicas of the orange triangle affixed to the rear of trailers have not been successful, primarily because trailers are frequently exchanged between carriers, thus creating practical difficulties in maintaining and assigning responsibility for them effectively. Hence, Waymo and Aurora aim to install flashing warning beacons on motor carriers, which will be easier to maintain and assign responsibility for.
In conclusion, the request made by Aurora and Waymo is a smart solution to a problem that has been ignored so far. It is expected that the self-driving industry will continue to seek relief from current transportation laws, and it is likely that motor carriers will follow this path if the exemption request is granted. However, the final decision lies with FMCSA, which must also ensure that the public’s interest and safety are not compromised.
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