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Why is a High-Mileage Approach Being Added to Driverless Trucks?

Posted on: November 16, 2020

In a voluntary Safety Report submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Plus, a truck automated driving system (ADS) developer, outlines its high-mileage approach being added to driverless trucks. According to CEO of Plus, the company will begin mass producing its autonomous driving system as early as next year but will not release commercially viable trucks until 2023 or 2024, after putting them to the test by driving billions of real-world miles. However, despite the many benefits of such technology, self-driving trucks present several dangers to motorists who may encounter them on the road. Drivers and passengers who are involved in an accident involving a driverless truck are urged to contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for assistance.

Why are Automated Driving Systems Being Developed for Commercial Trucks?

Trucking is a $600 billion industry, responsible for moving over 70 percent of goods in the United States. However, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are susceptible to many road hazards, such as adverse weather, fatigue, and distractions. Driverless truck developers aim to mitigate these risks typically associated with operating passenger vehicles and heavy-duty commercial trucks. Automated driving technology relies on computer systems rather than humans to operate vehicles, thereby eliminating human error, which is responsible for up to 94 percent of crashes, according to a National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. Weighing up to 33,000 pounds and with four main blind spots (also called no-zones), commercial trucks are more challenging to operate than passenger vehicles.

Also, commercial truck drivers travel an average of 600 to 650 miles per day as compared with drivers of passenger vehicles, who travel only approximately250 miles per week. Owing to the long hours and tight deadlines associated with the job, truckers often drive at night and in adverse weather conditions, both factors that increase the odds of being involved in a traffic accident. Other human hazards of the job include the following:  

Drowsy driving. Driver fatigue continues to be a major cause of car accidents. Most drivers are less alert at night, especially after midnight and if they have already been on the road for an extended period, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Although truck drivers are subject to Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations that limit the number of hours they may drive in a day, many truckers still violate the law. A recent Large-Truck Crash Causation Study reveals that 13 percent of CMV drivers were fatigued at the time of their crash. 

Distracted driving. Distracted drivers are responsible for thousands of deaths each year in the United States. Most states have enacted laws prohibiting texting while driving; many states restrict drivers to hands-free devices only. CMV drivers are held to an even higher standard when it comes to using mobile phones; they may not text, hold a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication, or engage in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry. They may use hands-free devices only in close proximity and may press no more than a single button to initiate or terminate their communication. Despite penalties of up to $11,000 and driver disqualification, many truck drivers still continue to text while driving, placing them at a 23.2 times greater risk of being involved in a safety-critical event than non-texting CMV drivers, according to the FMCSA. 

Driving under the influence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, 29 people die each day in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. However, alcohol is not the only substance truck drivers use while driving; drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine are also common causes of failed drug tests. Despite being illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, driving while impaired continues to be a common cause of car accidents. CMV drivers must comply with the FMCSA regulations, which set a strict blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.04 percent, half the BAC limit for most non-commercial drivers.

Truck drivers are also subject to random alcohol testing and drug testing as a condition of employment, when there is reasonable suspicion, or after an accident. However, alcohol and drug use remains a problem among truckers.  The FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2018 reveals that 305 of the 4,786 large truck drivers in fatal crashes (six percent) tested positive for at least one drug and 60 percent of them were not even tested. 

Plus’ Vision for Truck Automation

The founders of Plus aim to reduce the number of truck accidents by using automated technology, thereby eliminating human error. The company is focused on automating the long-haul portion of truck hauls on the interstate, otherwise known as the middle mile. This portion of the drive accounts for approximately 80 percent of long-haul trips and involves fairly repetitive routes with fewer pedestrians, bicyclists, and other types of urban traffic. Using these limited access divided highways, the self-driving trucks will travel from one distribution hub to another. The company acknowledges the inherent dangers of automated trucks and has built safety into its architecture processes and operations, according to the Safety Report. In addition to its focus on cybersecurity and structured engineering development processes, Plus also uses a tiered validation strategy in which it attempts to validate the safety of its system by using a mix of virtual, closed course, and public road testing, as well as third-party validation by an independent team.

Dangers of Automated Driving Technology

Despite the laudable advantages of automated driving technology, there are some concerns. Motorists who encounter these trucks on the road may be in danger due to the following issues:

Cybersecurity. Automated driving systems connect to the internet, which means that they are at risk for hacking and remote control. According to a recent study published by the International Association for Cryptologic Research, attackers can exploit driverless vehicles by projecting holographs. Alarmingly, attackers may conduct these attacks without even being physically present. Such phantom attacks can cause a driverless vehicle to mistake the holograph for a physical object in the road; therefore, the brakes may trigger, the car may steer into oncoming traffic, or the system may issue notifications about fake road signs. 

Malfunctions. Most automated driving technology errors occur as a result of perception system failures. Object and event detection remain a challenge for self-driving cars, which rely on one or a combination of sensors such as lidar, radar, and cameras. Lidar sensors use lasers to measure three-dimensional points, providing precise distance information but limited shape and texture information; radar sensors transmit radio waves, which detect objects and gauge their distance and speed in relation to the vehicle. Cameras provide information that lidar and radar sensors do not offer, such as accurately identifying an object, for example, a person, another car, or an object in the road. However, each of these types of sensors have their weaknesses and, as with all forms of technology, do not always function as intended. 

Novelty. Self-driving vehicles are, as of now, part of a widely unregulated industry without enough testing to produce reliable safety statistics. Driverless trucks are new, and therefore knowledge regarding their performance is limited; simulations and virtual tests may not be a proper substitute for real-world situations. Owing to this novelty and until concerns such as cybersecurity and malfunctioning computers are abated, users of the automated technology as well as other drivers on the road remain at increased risk of being involved in an accident.    

Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Assist Those Injured by Commercial Motor Vehicles

If you were injured in a truck accident, contact the Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law. Our dedicated and experienced legal team can help hold the responsible parties accountable for your injuries and get you the compensation you deserve. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.