It’s become a caricature of today’s society – the human automatons, adorned with earbuds, eyes glued to cell phones. It has generated cartoons – the family at the dinner table, texting “pass the salt.” Technology has enveloped our life. For all its benefits – information, entertainment, automation – technology has, in many settings, blinded us to each other and to the world we live in.

In trucking and highway safety, we speak of the dangers of “distracted driving.” Put that phone down and keep your eyes on the road, we tell our fellow four-wheelers and truckers.

But sometimes, the technology intended to assist our safe driving tasks can dampen our attention to the road. Truck drivers in the United Kingdom, for example, report that the mandatory speed limiters can cause them to “disassociate from the vehicle” – forget to drive. It becomes too easy for them to ignore the fact that traffic, road conditions, and weather may call for speeds slower than what technology may allow. The commercial airline industry reports instances where the pilot, eyes glued to instrument gauges important to safety, fails to actually fly the plane and crashes.

It is in this light that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking comments on the new Information Collection Request (ICR) entitled “Human Factors Considerations in Commercial Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems.” FMCSA recognizes that automated driving systems “present an environment that is ripe for overreliance.”

FMCSA looks to compile questions and concerns to help it evaluate how commercial drivers in a driving simulator setting respond to increasing levels of truck automation. As the automated truck does more of the “driving” itself, the commercial driver “takes on a more supervisory role” and may engage in non-driving tasks. Upon alert from the vehicle, the driver may need to quickly achieve “situational awareness” and “resume full control of the vehicle.”

Situational awareness is key to highway safety. Distractions divert that awareness. So, too, can our own expectations, such as expecting that automated emergency braking means we can relinquish control in normal driving.

Researchers have warned about the dangers of “attentional blindness,” where “looked-but-didn’t see” accidents occur. Attentional blindness may increase when drivers expect technology to handle every situation.

FMCSA notes that, at lower levels of automation, “the driver is still responsible for driving at all times.” That may be true, in the physical sense of responsibility. But highway safety depends on personal responsibility through all levels of automation and in all situations. FMCSA can use your comments, due no later than Nov. 22, 2022, to this ICR to help maintain the role of personal responsibility no matter the technology involved.


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