Long ago, computer automation began gutting many industries, but now it is getting serious – they are reaching for the steering wheel! Trial and pilot experiments around the country and in Europe are moving closer and closer to the driverless car and truck. We already have pilotless drones to spy and drop bombs over Iraq and Afghanistan, so a pilotless airliner is surely going to come very soon. We have driverless cars already registered in Nevada, and Google has been operating autonomous cars on California roads for a couple of years now. So, trucks could be next – maybe not totally driverless, but connected in road trains where only the lead driver is actually operating the wheel and other controls.
The University of Michigan is running a pilot project involving 2,800 cars and trucks that is testing a wireless system that will allow the vehicles to communicate with each other electronically. Putting two and two together, it’s easy to see how we may soon have trucks, wirelessly connected to each other, traveling at speeds a lot faster than they are now. The potential advantages of these “road trains” are enormous. The road train would be controlled by the lead vehicle, which is connected wirelessly to the other vehicles in the train. Although there would still be drivers in those other vehicles, they would have minimal control of their vehicle for most of the journey, as a constant stream of data from the lead vehicle would direct the entire train to change lanes, leave the expressway, speed up or slow down. Once a vehicle neared its destination, the road train would “release” that vehicle to continue to its destination on its own.
The automated system would take the human emotions out of delicate maneuvers like changing lanes or merging, making the roads safer. Drivers would be less fatigued by the moment-to-moment demands of truck driving, and trucks would be able to save on fuel. Not only would freight move safer and more efficiently, but it would also help to compensate for the ongoing driver shortage the industry is experiencing. I know it seems far-fetched, but think about it – it isn’t.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed regulations last year requiring auto manufacturers to include event data recorders – also known as Black Boxes – in all new cars and light duty trucks beginning 9/1/14. Truth is, many automakers have been quietly tucking the devices, which automatically record the actions of drivers and the responses from their vehicles, into their new cars for years. The idea is to gather information to help determine the cause of accidents and then to design safer cars.
Data collected by these recorders is now beginning to show up in lawsuits and criminal cases. In one high-profile case, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray initially said he wasn’t speeding and that he was wearing his seat belt when he crashed a government-owned car in 2012. But the car’s data recorder told a different story – it showed that the car was traveling more than 100 mph and that Murray was not belted in.
Presently, there is no opt-out option in regards to these “black boxes” and it is very difficult for owners to disable them. Although some vehicles have had recorders in them since the early 1990’s, a federal requirement that automakers disclose their existence didn’t go into effect until last year. Privacy complaints have gone unheeded so far. The traffic safety administration says it does not have the authority to impose limits on how the information can be used and other privacy protections. Currently, about a dozen states have some sort of laws regarding data recorders, but the rest do not.
MAP 21 & INTERLINING
The current democratically-controlled Congress will shortly curtail the ability of carriers to hand off freight to other carriers through interline arrangements. MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, signed by President Obama on July 6, 2012, now restricts the practice of convenient interlining in which one carrier hires another to transport freight and does not play any active role in the shipment. Interlining was once very commonplace in trucking because the federal government restricted carriers’ operating authority to specific areas and commodities. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 removed most of these restrictions, but interlining continued mostly as a way for local and regional carriers to handle long-haul shipments.
Back in the 1960’s, I worked at Pacific Intermountain Express in Commerce, CA. At that time, I was a union Teamster driver making around $3.25 per hour. Because of the high wages that PIE paid its drivers, it was determined that it was cheaper to give all inbound freight of 100 lbs. or less to an interline carrier. We gave all that freight to a non-union carrier who is still in business today. Map-21 limits convenience interlining by requiring carriers to have broker authority separate from its operating authority. Also, the carrier now has to inform the customer if it is accepting transportation as a motor carrier, broker or forwarder.
For all practical purposes, this new rule eliminates interlining of freight between two or more carriers, unless the original carrier participates in its transportation. Map-21 also imposes new bonding and registration requirements on freight brokerage firms and freight forwarders. Beginning in July, brokers and forwarders must post a $75,000 surety bond or trust fund agreement to protect carriers and shippers against nonpayment of freight charges. The new law also requires brokers and freight forwarders to have at least three years of “relevant” experience or “provide the Secretary of Transportation with satisfactory evidence of the individual’s knowledge of related rules, regulations and industry practices.” Such requirements will be difficult to meet because our illustrious government has not yet defined exactly what “knowledge” is required, or how they plan to test individuals. Stay tuned!