For the last few years, Monarch Tractor, maker of a fully electric, driver-optional smart tractor, has been working closely with California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to amend Title 8, Section 3441(b) to clarify the use of driver-optional tractors without a human operator stationed on the vehicle within a strict set of safety guidelines. The company learned June 16 that its petition was denied by a 3:4 vote.
The current regulations state “all self-propelled equipment shall, when under its own power and in motion, have an operator stationed at the vehicular controls.” In its proposed amendment, Monarch Tractor suggested that current regulations, which originated in the 1970s, are outdated and ambiguous, not taking into account ongoing 21st century autonomous technology advances in tractors and other farm machinery.
Despite the ruling, Cal/OSHA and Monarch Tractor continue to work closely under a temporary experimental variance to gather data and clarify the safety regulations and establish a process with key milestones for the tech providers to follow specifically in farm environments where autonomous equipment is expected to work in close proximity to farm workers.
Monarch has made safety a priority, with information sharing and collaboration with Cal/OSHA over the last three years. During this time, Monarch has incorporated several additional safety features with direct input from Cal/OSHA. Monarch’s tractors are speed limited in autonomy mode to 3 mph and feature digital safety guard rails that deploy whenever a human is within 10 meters (33 feet) of the vehicle.
Monarch Tractor continues to lead the effort to bring driver-optional technology to farms and to help bring clarification to existing regulations for deployment. Monarch Tractor’s petition received the support of farmer associations, manufacturers and other agriculture participants who recognize the benefits of driver-optional operations on the farm.
“Monarch continues to advocate for the farmer and ensure access to the latest technology that will increase farm worker safety. The tractor driver seat is one of the most dangerous places on small farms with exposure to chemicals, harsh elements and equipment issues including implements,” said Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder and CEO, Monarch Tractor. “While an approval today would have expedited the regulation process and reduced paperwork and data sharing burden for Monarch and other OEMs, this ruling simply underscores that there is more work to be done under our current Cal/OSHA variance process, and as the leader in farm automation technology, we will continue to work with Cal/OSHA on use cases where autonomous equipment is in close proximity to workers.”
Monarch Tractor will continue the deployment of its electric, driver-optional tractor, as well as continuing to work with farm and equipment partners to raise questions that will offer regulatory clarity. Monarch appreciates the support for the petition from the agriculture industry and equipment manufacturers alike.