The Department of Transportation in the US has received a request for an exemption from Waymo and Aurora. The exemption applied for is from the requirement to place warning devices around stopped commercial vehicles.
Currently the agency requires that commercial vehicles that encounter a problem on the road have warning devices placed on the road behind the vehicle. As both companies are intending to test Level 4 automated vehicles this is unfeasible, and so they are applying fo the ability to use flashing lights on the vehicle itself in lieu of placing a warning device on the road, which would require a person to do so.
This is an application, which is open for public comments. Those comments must be made within 30 days of the application. The Department of Transportation is required to provide an opportunity to the public to comment, as well as providing any relevant information to the application, which would include safety analyses that might be conducted. The agency will publish an official decision on the application for exemption at some point, along with all the reasons for or against the decision.
In the request Waymo and Aurora argue that it is possible to have similar safety by means of flashing lights on the vehicle as can be achieved by more typical warning devices. They suggest that amber flashing lights both in the front, and the rear, at about the height of the side mirrors would do the trick.
Unless self-driving trucks have extendable arms to setup traffic triangles to warn other drivers that they are stuck or having some sort of problem, some other solution is needed. Currently it is a regulation that trucks place a triangle on the road behind the truck within 10 minutes of stopping. Either this regulation needs to be changed, or companies like Waymo and Aurora will have to device ingenious solutions like robotic arms.
This is a good example of where regulation must be updated to the current technological context. There are clear safety reasons to enforce a rule on commercial vehicles that they warn other drivers of a problem. However, if the vehicle has no person, then the way that rule is implemented must change. Some rewording of the regulation might do. For example, the requirement could be that an appropriately visible warning system has to be activated within 10 minutes of a problem with any commercial vehicle. If it can be demonstrated that the flashing lights, or whatever system is developed, is equally effective in warning other drivers or other autonomous vehicles, that the vehicle is experiencing some difficulty that means it cannot move then it would satisfy this new regulation. The requirement to put out a warning device is just one example of where the shift to autonomy will require regulatory updating.
Written by Joshua Bronson,
RISE Mobility & Systems