The trucking industry continues to be a favorite target of politicians and regulators. The
issues of safety, environmental concerns, and work environment attract a variety of
proposed regulations and laws each year. In recent years these have often been
focused on rapidly evolving technology.
Creating Safer Roadways
Everyone in the industry and on the road agrees with making safety a top priority. The
National Roadway Safety Strategy was announced in January 2022 with the mission of
lowering motor vehicle accidents resulting in fatalities and injuries. The question of what
technologies aid in meeting this objective is, however, often a point of contention. At the
core of the disputes over such innovative safety technologies is the need to balance real
costs and limitations with potential and/or proven benefits.
The two primary U.S. Trucking agencies, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced in
June that they are jointly providing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that addresses the
use of automatic emergency braking systems on all commercial vehicles. The notice
also proposes amending the earlier requirements for electronic stability control systems
for heavier trucks, not just lighter vehicles.
As part of the major Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this proposal is just one of a series of
initiatives required. Fulfilling one aspect of the law, the agencies have included the
proposed definition of heavy vehicles as those exceeding 10,000 pounds in gross
The technologies behind AEB, already in many new automobiles and lighter trucks,
utilizes sensors that are designed to detect situations where a crash is imminent. Those
systems then engage the brakes if the driver has not done so or augment the braking if
it is not seen as sufficient. These systems provide such a safety margin that the leading
trucking firms, such as Road Scholar Transport, have already implemented them in their
Addressing the method of implementation of the new rules, the agencies propose a two-
tier process. Additionally, they note these changes would be for new construction only
and not require a retrofit to existing vehicles.
The first phase of the regulation would go into effect three years after the final ruling
goes effective. This would cover all vehicles over 26,000 pounds. Those trucks in the
10,001 to 26,000 pound category would be given an additional year for implementation.
The Numbers Behind the Proposal
Statistics provided by NHSTA estimate there are more than 60,000 rear-end crashes
involving heavy vehicles each year. These accidents result in an average of nearly
9,000 injuries and 155 fatalities. The agencies predict that implementation of the policy
will eliminate nearly a third of those accidents.
Two large trucking industry associations do not dispute those numbers, yet they come
down on two different sides of the proposed new rules. The American Trucking
Association came out in favor of the proposed changes. In fact, the Vice-President of
Safety Policy for ATA, Dan Horvath, noted, “ATA has long supported the use of AEB on
all new vehicles. With NHTSA’s recent regulation requiring AEB on all new passenger
vehicles, this proposal for heavy-duty trucks is timely and appropriate.”
On the other side of the issue, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
took issue with the attitude that AEB is adequately proven for use in larger vehicles. The
OOIDA issued a response from Jay Grimes, director of federal affairs, stating, “As we
review the proposal, NHTSA and FMCSA must resolve any performance issues before
any mandate is implemented.”
The statement continued, “For example, NHTSA is currently investigating 250,000
heavy-duty trucks equipped with AEB that may inaccurately identify objects and cause
unexpected stops. Drivers will also need more assurances that AEB technology will
work in all types of road and weather conditions.”
Summarizing its position, the Truck Safety Coalition noted, “Automatic braking rules for
cars and trucks are the most important safety improvements that could be issued. Like
airbags in the 1990s, this rule will save thousands of lives and reduce or eliminate
millions of horrible injuries on the highway.”
It would appear that the overriding issues of safety will see both of these new
technologies as a part of new vehicle construction in the not-too-distant future.