Technology continues to accelerate and permeate almost every aspect of our lives. This statement most certainly holds true for those of us working in the transportation and trucking space as well, although usually at a less frenetic and generally more measured, pace. Unfortunately, for most of us who have been around this business for a while, we recall an industry that generally and historically has been more reactive than proactive. But rising costs and crash numbers has become a forcing function to push the envelope on this paradigm in the search for efficiency and safety and the result is making some in industry and government uncomfortable. For an industry with thin margins, and a government that typically takes years to develop and promulgate rules, we are not yet set up to adapt our practices in the transportation system of the future – and to be effective both industry and government will need to change.
Several examples offer experience to learn from — Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), Electric Vehicles, and Autonomous Vehicles. With ELDs, the rules were written at a time when the technology envisioned to be deployed was different than how many ELDs are designed, deployed and operated today. As a result, the rules and enforcement of them are not always aligned with operations and advancement of the technology, and problems in the field persist. FMCSA recognized this to a degree when it put out an ANPRM in 2022. However, more than 14 months after the closing period for public comments, there has been no action.
Automated Vehicles and advanced vehicle technologies are additional examples of where federal government policy has not kept pace with technology advancement. After seven years FMCSA and NHTSA have not helped chart the future by providing the necessary guardrails for standards. Industry innovation is still plowing ahead, but there is some trepidation that once government does move forward with rules – they do not have a negative impact or chilling effect on the market. As a result, there has been a fractured approach, and in some cases states (or other countries) have stepped in to fill the void and take leadership roles.
With electric vehicles, the opposite has transpired. The federal government, and some states (yes California we are talking to you) have pushed forward with aggressive electric vehicle mandates for vehicles, that many in industry view as impractical. Many incentives have been provided to pump-prime the market and make decisions for consumers, many of whom are not ready and don’t fully understand the ramifications of their decision. Several factors have not been accounted for in setting these mandates and timelines, not the least of which is the maturity of the technology, the charging infrastructure, and the impacts on the electrical grid. The end result, in some cases, has been lawsuits, an outcome likely to continue if there is not a course correction.
The few examples above paint a rocky picture. Is it time to revisit how industry and government collaborate in making policy and regulatory decisions? Given the nature of transportation today and, in the future, both government and industry have to have a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s needs, wants, expectations and restrictions. It seems to STC the current structure for allowing these conversations to take place is not working optimally and needs to be fixed if we want to remain in the forefront of innovation in the world.