Lawmakers override guv's veto, clearing autonomous-vehicle path | Long-term I-840 lane closure

Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, April 17, 2024:

Kentucky lawmakers override veto of autonomous vehicle bill

After Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill earlier this month that would have cleared the way for fully-autonomous, driverless vehicles -- including trucks -- to operate in the state, lawmakers overrode the veto, allowing the bill to become law.

HB 7 was passed by the state’s House and Senate before being shot down by the governor. It clears a regulatory path for fully autonomous vehicles without a human driver to operate, as long as the vehicle meets certain conditions. 

[Related: Chronicling the collision of trucking and automation: New photo exhibit]

Beshear, in vetoing the bill, said it “does not fully address questions about the safety and security of autonomous vehicles, nor does it implement a testing period that would require a licensed human driver to be behind the wheel” for passenger vehicles. The bill did require a testing period with a driver to be present for trucks with a declared gross weight and any towed unit over 62,000 pounds through July 31, 2026.

“Opening Kentucky's highways and roads to fully autonomous vehicles should occur only after careful study and consideration and an extensive testing period with a licensed human being behind the wheel, which is what other states have done before passing such law,” Beshear added.

The Kentucky House voted 58-40 to override the veto, and the state Senate voted 21-15 to override.

[Related: California reignites driverless-truck ban]

Long-term I-840 lane restriction after railroad damaged bridge

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has implemented a single-lane closure on I-840 for about three months to make the necessary repairs to a damaged bridge in Williamson County.

The bridge on I-840 eastbound at milemarker 28 was damaged by a CSX crew doing work underneath the bridge on the railroad underpass Tuesday afternoon. TDOT closed the bridge to all traffic while bridge inspection crews reviewed the damage.

After a thorough inspection, they deemed the untouched portion of the bridge safe to cross, but the right lane of the road will remain closed until the necessary repairs can be made.

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One lane of travel will remain open for most of the project, aside from some temporary, short-term full closures of the bridge during work.

TDOT said it “is doing all it can to make the necessary repairs as safely and as quickly as possible while limiting the impact on traffic.”

[Related: FMCSA explains the HOS waivers around Baltimore's bridge collapse]

Truckstop/FTR Spot Market Snapshot April 15, 2024In the latest spot market weekly update from FTR Transportation Intelligence and the Truckstop load board, data show load availability tracking through 2024 at levels slightly above though somewhat similar to 2023. All-in spot rates, though, continue to fall below previous-year levels but have gained some ground in recent weeks (as shown in the bars in the Spot Rate - Total chart above). Flatbed rates are bringing down those averages. Both dry van and reefer rates sat above last year's national averages in the most recent week. The bright spot? Flatbed gained some ground last week, with spot platform rates at their highest level since early July 2023.

Florida’s request for CDL skills testing flexibility denied

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has denied a request from Florida officials for an exemption from certain provisions in the CDL skills testing regulations.

In December, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) asked FMCSA for a waiver from the requirement for the three-part CDL skills test to be administered and successfully completed in the following order: pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control skills, and on-road skills.

The department wanted to allow the tester, at their discretion, to continue testing an applicant who failed the pre-trip inspection or basic vehicle controls segments of the test and allow the applicant to come back at a later date to retake the failed segment(s) only. FLHSMV said the exemption “would allow compliance staff to better utilize their time and resources in completing the required monitoring of third-party testers.”

The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) voiced support for the exemption during the public comment period.

In denying the request, FMCSA said it “believes that conducting the elements of the CDL skills test in the required order ... is the best practice for the safety of the CDL applicant, the examiner, and any motorists who must share the public roadway with the CDL applicant during the on-road portion of the CDL skills test.”

FMCSA added that current regulations already provide flexibility for retesting, depending on when the failure in the three-part CDL skills test happens. If a candidate fails the pre-trip, they must come back to take the entire test. If they pass the pre-trip but fail the vehicle control portion, they must return to repeat the vehicle control portion and take the on-road test. Finally, if a candidate passes the pre-trip and vehicle control portions but fails the on-road test, they only have to return to repeat the on-road test.

“The sequence of the skills test ensures that an applicant has demonstrated sufficient knowledge and skills to safely attempt the next step in the testing process,” FMCSA concluded. “The current regulations also provide flexibility, in that generally, applicants are not required to retake portions of the test which have been successfully completed. Moreover, with the implementation of the federal Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) requirements, the agency believes [states] should see a reduction in the percentage of applicants who fail portions of the CDL skills test.”

[Related: Florida officials seek waiver for CDL testing regs]

Tech firm establishes driver advisory board for eliminating distracted driving

NoCell Technologies, supplier of products to mitigate the use of cell phones by those behind the wheel of commercial vehicles, announced the establishment of the NoCell Driver Advisory Board.

The Board is comprised of acclaimed professional drivers who are committed to helping improve safety on roadways by eliminating distracted driving, the company said. This group understands the need for technology solutions for the trucking industry and, as importantly, the essentialness of properly communicating the benefit of technology for the driver.

The new advisory board will provide feedback to the NoCell Technologies team on current technologies and issues with adoption, and help determine the best way to share technology advancements with professional drivers.

The NoCell Driver Advisory Board is composed of six truck drivers and trucking industry professionals:

  • Tom Ball, Dedicated Transportation Manager at Ruan Transportation.
  • Daniel Clark, an owner-operator who hauls local reefer for Classic Carriers. He has been a professional driver for more than 16 years and has more than 2.5 million miles under his belt. He won the 2023 Truckload Carriers Association Driver of the Year award.
  • Anthony Eck, an independent contractor with Prime Inc. He has been a professional driver for 25 years and has 2.5 million accident-free miles behind him. He placed first in the Utah State Truck Driver Championship in 2023 and has been nominated twice for the TCA Driver of the Year award.
  • Thomas Miller, an independent contractor who hauls regional freight for Prime Inc.. He has been a professional driver for 30 years and has nearly 4 million accident-free miles. He serves as an America’s Road Team captain, on the Prime Driver Advisory Board and is an ambassador for the Independent Contractor’s Coalition. He was named TCA’s 2013 Independent Contractor of the Year and the 2016 Missouri Trucking Association Driver of the Year.
  • Emily Plummer, an owner-operator who hauls over-the-road reefers for Prime Inc. She has been a professional driver for 24 years and has driven more than 3.25 million miles. In 2024, she was named as an American Trucking Associations Road Team Captain. She is also the recipient of the 2023 TCA Driver of the Year award.
  • Charles Smith, a lease operator who hauls over-the-road reefer for Prime Inc. He has been a professional driver for seven years, trains new drivers, and has driven nearly 1 million miles. He serves on the Prime Driver Advisory Board and has been named Prime’s No. 1 Fleet Driver.
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