Questions Swirling After Former FMCSA Chief Joins Driverless Truck Company
San Diego, CA – The former acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is joining a driverless truck company in its quest to begin replacing truck drivers as soon as possible.
Jim Mullen, FMCSA’s former acting administrator, has been hired by TuSimple to serve as the autonomous truck company’s chief legal and risk officer.
Mullen will oversee legal affairs and risk management strategy as TuSimple moves full steam ahead on its stated goal of replacing truck drivers with autonomous technology.
As Transportation Nation Network (TNN) previously reported, last year, Chuck Price, TuSimple’s Chief Product Officer, told the Houston Chronicle the company’s goal was to begin replacing truck drivers as soon as this year.
TuSimple believes long-haul routes with short turnaround times are well suited for self-driving trucks which is why the company acknowledges it is zeroing in on replacing team truckers first.
As for Mullen, TNN was first to break the news last month that he would be leaving the Agency at the end of August.
Multiple trusted sources had previously alerted TNN to Mullen’s imminent departure before a United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) spokesperson agreed to release a statement confirming the news.
It is unclear how and when the USDOT planned to announce Mullen’s resignation.
However, many stakeholders who spoke to TNN questioned the timing of Mullen’s departure and the USDOT’s curious handling of it.
Before joining the FMCSA, Mullen previously served as executive vice president and general counsel for Werner Enterprises as well as operated his own consulting firm.
FMCSA Aligning With Driverless Tech Makers?
Mullen’s landing spot also raises additional questions about his tenure with the FMCSA and the Agency’s role in developing policy to promote driverless technology.
For instance, in January of this year, while under Mullen’s leadership, the Agency announced its intent to study why large truck-involved crash deaths are now at a 31-year high.
In a Request for Information (RFI) announcing the Large Truck Crash Causal Factors Study (LTCCFS), the FMCSA made clear it is performing the study, in part, to speed deployment of autonomous trucks.
“Findings from the study can be used to inform technology developers in the autonomous vehicle environment of the kinds of driver behaviors that need to be addressed,” the RFI states.
It continues, “This new study will develop a baseline of large truck crash factors to help guide mitigating crash avoidance strategies to prevent future crashes even in the SAE International driving automation level 4 and 5 vehicles.”
Conflict of Interest in Pronto ai Exemption Denial?
Last week, the FMCSA denied a controversial request for an exemption to hours of service (HOS) rules filed by Pronto ai, a competitor of TuSimple.
In April, Pronto ai asked the FMCSA on behalf of its customers to grant a renewable five-year exemption from HOS rules to allow for an additional two hours of daily driving time and an extension of the daily on duty clock by one hour.
In the FMCSA’s denial, the Agency indicated it had “no choice” but to refuse the request due to a lack of data supporting the technology maker’s claims.
However, given Mullen’s new position, it is fair to question if he had a conflict of interest while overseeing the processing of Pronto ai’s petition.
It is also fair to ask what USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao knew about these potential conflicts of interest, when she knew of them, and what actions, if any, she took in response.
TNN will have more reporting on these developments in the coming days.