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Waymo and Aurora Request Unsafe and Misguided Waiver

By Admin

April 10, 2023


Larry Minor
Associate Administrator for Policy
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

RE: Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation; Exemption Application From Waymo LLC, and Aurora Operations, Inc.
Docket No. FMCSA-2023-0071

Dear Mr. Minor:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I am pleased to respond to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) notice regarding an exemption application from Waymo and Aurora. TTD consists of 37 affiliated unions, including those representing transit and motorcoach workers who would be affected by the waiver Waymo and Aurora are requesting. We ask that FMCSA reject Waymo and Aurora’s exemption application for the reasons discussed below. Additionally, we endorse the comments filed by our affiliated unions, the Amalgamated Transportation Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).

In the request, Waymo and Aurora request an exemption from:
● 49 CFR § 392.22(b), which requires the placement of traditional warning devices in the roadway or shoulder of a highway to provide other road users notice or awareness that a CMV is stopped in a traffic lane or on the shoulder for reasons other than a necessary traffic stop
● 49 CFR § 393.25(e), which requires that all exterior lamps on the vehicle, with the exception of certain specified lamps, such as hazard warning signal lamps, must be steady burning
● 49 CFR § 393.95(f), which sets forth the only permitted warning devices for stopped CMVs, which include: bidirectional emergency reflective triangles, fusees, or liquid-burning flares

Waymo and Aurora state that, “Compliance with 49 CFR § 392.22(b) is not feasible for autonomous CMVs without a human on board.” Instead, Waymo and Aurora are proposing to use Cab-Mounted Warning Beacons. These devices are not among the types of warning devices for stopped vehicles required by 49 CFR § 393.95(f) for a variety of reasons including that cab-mounted lights may be obscured by the rear portions of the vehicle including trailers and cargo. Waymo and Aurora have not proposed adding any warning devices at the rear of the vehicle – which would generally be encountered first by other drivers unless Waymo and Aurora plan to drive their vehicles into oncoming traffic.

The image above is copied from Waymo and Aurora’s exemption request. The red circles TTD has added highlights that there would be no warning lights proximal to oncoming traffic. The placement of the cab-beacon lights would violate 49 CFR 392.22 (2)(iv), which requires that, if a vehicle is stopped within 500 feet of a curve, crest of a hill, or other obstruction to view, the driver shall place the warning signal in the direction of the obstruction to view a distance of 100 to 500 feet from the stopped CMV so as to afford ample warning to other highway users. This requirement is in place to account for the simple geometry of curves, hills, and other obstructions that can make cab lights invisible to oncoming traffic.

Additionally, this exemption request is premised on the unsupported assumption that the cab beacons would function as intended. Since these lights would only be necessary when the vehicle is malfunctioning and disabled on the roadway, it is not guaranteed that the beacons would remain functional when other operational mechanisms are not. If a basic connection issue were to occur, the beacons could not be activated remotely, and as Waymo and Aurora have stated, no human would be present to activate the beacons or ensure that they are working. Strict inspections would be necessary to ensure that the lights would remain functional when other vehicle systems fail, and this kind of inspection system simply is not in place at this time.

Instead of acknowledging that safety regulations are in place for a reason and recognizing that autonomous driving technology is not yet developed enough to replace humans because safety requirements cannot yet be met without the presence of humans, Waymo and Aurora have decided to recklessly proceed with attempting to expand operation of autonomous vehicles, disregarding safety. Waymo and Aurora’s entire business model is predicated on the goal of reducing the number of humans involved in driving operations, and they state as much in the petition by saying that being required to have human workers perform certain tasks, such as deploying emergency warning lights would “…undermine the efficiency potential of autonomous CMVs and slow the adoption of ADS technology…” TTD argues that safety should always be the highest goal, instead of the single-minded effort to decrease the number of jobs available to human workers.

Waymo and Aurora’s exemption request is an outright admission of the shortcomings of automation technology and the lack of a safety framework to ensure safe operations. Until such regulations fully account for how automated vehicles might safely operate in an environment without a human operator, we are strictly opposed to this and any other waivers that risk degrading safety in the sole interest of using public streets and highways as a testing ground for an as of yet unproven technology. In a recent Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FMCSA admitted that it does not currently know the number of ADS-equipped CMVs currently on the road operating without a human driver. Further, companies operating such vehicles are not currently required to submit information, data, documentation, or other evidence that demonstrates that ADS-equipped CMVs have appropriate safety management controls in place to operate the vehicle.

In a highly unorthodox request, Waymo and Aurora have asked that this potential exemption be granted not only to the applicants who have provided explanations of potential uses and (unconvincing) safety justifications. Instead, Waymo and Aurora have asked that this potential exemption be granted to “all motor carriers operating ADS-equipped CMVs without a human on board (or with a human on board).” This is a highly concerning request because such an exemption would amount to a change in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) without any proposed or final rule being issued and no record in the CFR. This would be a serious overstep of FMCSA’s rulemaking authority under the Administrative Procedures Act and would create a dangerous precedent for future waivers and exemptions in all DOT modal agencies. FMCSA should deny this request and indicate to Waymo and Aurora that the appropriate avenue for such a request would be a Petition for Rulemaking instead of an exemption application.

The request that Waymo and Aurora have articulated would also apply to CMVs with a human on board, but no proposed operations are mentioned that would utilize this exemption. It would be highly irresponsible for FMCSA to grant an exemption that has been specifically requested with applicants detailing precisely how the exemption would be implemented. It is not FMCSA’s job to eliminate regulatory requirements on the off chance that companies would like to change operations in the future.

For these reasons, we strongly urge FMCSA to deny Waymo and Aurora’s exemption application. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and look forward to working with FMCSA in the future.

Greg Regan