In this Issue:

Autonomous Trucks

Hoboken Train Crash

The Captain’s Corner

From Bob Swint's Vault


Google is now testing self-driving cars in four American cities. In Pittsburg, the ride sharing service, Uber, is also testing self-driving cars. Already, automatic emergency braking, active parallel parking control and blind spot and lane drift warning systems are included in the product offerings of several major auto manufacturers. In light of these trends, Morgan Stanley predicts that complete autonomous capability for cars will be here by 2022, followed by a massive marketing push by 2026.

Efforts are also now underway to enable trucks to drive themselves – not in some distant future, but right now. On October 20, 2016, an 18-wheeler carried a commercial beer shipment from Fort Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs with no driver behind the wheel during the 120 mile leg of the trip on I-25. Beyond such cool and dramatic demonstrations, there are also real, practical precedents in agriculture and mining where some heavy vehicles operate entirely without drivers.

Trucking technology still has a long way to go before we see trucks on the road without a human on board. Currently, efforts are focused on less complex areas of on-highway operations. Once the truck has safely entered the highway, the human operator engages the truck’s autonomous control and then assumes the role of on board decision maker rather than moment to moment driver.

To provide terms for the discussion of autonomous vehicle control, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines different levels of driving automation. The two levels that are relevant to the present discussion follow:

  • Level 4 is a full, self-driving vehicle, requiring no driver control other than someone to input the destination. Such vehicles perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.

  • Level 3 - “Limited Self-Driving Automation” – allows the driver to cede control of all safety critical functions under certain conditions. The driver is expected to be available to take back control when needed. All self-driving trucks demonstrated thus far, including the Colorado beer delivery truck, are at Level 3 automation.

Developing strategies for sharing the road with other vehicles and people is a complex, serious challenge, and the technology to date is a work in progress. Regulatory agencies and legal jurisdictions have not yet provided any specific requirements for autonomous technology. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is mostly in a watch mode.

Trucks with their cargo are significantly heavier than passenger cars. If not safely managed, the kinetic energy of an 80,000 pound truck travelling at 70 mph has the potential to do great harm. Controlling and reducing the kinetic energy in an accident can significantly reduce both personal injury and property damage. This is one area where assisting the driver with smart, autonomous systems has great promise.

To create an autonomous truck requires the system level integration of numerous technologies. These technologies include traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, cruise control, power steering, engine and transmission controls, radar and camera systems, global positioning system (GPS) navigation, telecommunications hardware and the underlying data buses and software that support them all. A major design consideration for autonomous trucks is a safe and secure command and control system. As with all such systems in the present age, the system needs to be safe from malicious hacking and terroristic acts, a clear and present danger.

ATA Associates CEO, Robert Swint, was employed by NASA for 25 years. He was the chairman of the Shuttle Avionics Integration Panel and the Project Engineer for the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. While at NASA, he managed or participated in avionics tests employing hardware, software, and human assets to ensure system safety and reliability. ATA Associates, Inc. now has a test service agreement in place with Jacobs Engineering to provide continued access to NASA test facilities. Jacobs/NASA has test facilities (IPAS-Integrated Power Avionics and Software) that could be used in the testing of autonomous truck electronic systems to evaluate their design, performance and safety.

ATA Associates has proposed to the American Trucking Association that, as they develop the policies and guidelines for autonomous trucks, they consider systems level integrated testing utilizing the capabilities available by way of our Jacobs/NASA connection.

Autonomous cars and trucks are here now. Let’s do everything possible to make them safe.



On September 22, 2016, ATA’s CEO Robert Swint was interviewed by NPR correspondent David Schaper and the Reuters News Agency concerning the recent New Jersey Transit train crash.

In the interview, Swint stated that the train’s on-board black box data would identify what the rail unit and engineer/operator were doing prior to the crash; and that the Hoboken Terminal surveillance cameras could be used to determine train speed and to reveal possible mechanical problems. Swint added that while it was too early in the investigation to determine the causes of this accident, the implementation of Positive Train Control probably could have aided in the prevention of this accident. He also mentioned that accidents involving trains striking bumper stops have been occurring for over 100 years.

When asked how an expert would execute an accident reconstruction without the presence of a working black box; Swint responded that you would approach it the old fashion way - using available information from witnesses, surveillance cameras, and physics.

Visit ATA's website to review our history and activities in railroad accident reconstruction.


“On Jan. 20, 2017, a new administration will take office. Joining departments and agencies across the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security is making preparations to ensure continuity of operations and a seamless transition for the new administration. The Coast Guard has also joined this effort by creating a Presidential Transition Team.”

The Captain’s Corner takes a look at the Coast Guard Presidential Transition Team’s web page, which appears on the “Coast Guard Compass”, the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard. The transition team  presents an interesting overview of Coast Guard activities and the Coast Guard’s value as a force that is critical to ensuring safety and security on the nation’s waterways and coastlines.

To learn a little more about this sometimes under noticed branch of service, visit their blog at:
Coast Guard Compass


ATA Associates has created a useful tool for trucking companies and participants – a library of trucking training video programs that are offered at no cost to the public and members of the trucking industry. These programs were created to enhance or improve a trucking company’s or individual trucker’s safety program or overall knowledge of trucking safety and procedures.

Titles available include: Coupling and Uncoupling; Aggressive vs. Conservative Driving; The Road Series – a three volume series covering A Simple Safety Session, After The Accident and Level One Inspections; Detective Diesel Driver Training System – a creative look at driver training; and Sixty Seconds for Safety – fifty brief video lessons focusing on a single concept to provoke discussion between drivers and instructors.

ATA Truck Driver Training Programs