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What are the Challenges of Making a Self-Driving Truck that is Safe?

Posted on: August 2, 2021

The United States runs on the trucking industry. So many of the country’s retail stores and businesses rely on resupply by tractor trailers. The trucking industry carries more products across the United States than any other transportation system, such as trains, plains, or cargo ships. The dominance of the trucking industry is inhibited only by one thing, the human element. Trucks rely on humans to drive them. This is a limitation because federal law places restrictions on how many hours truck drivers can work in a 24-hour period. Also, big trucks on the roads and highways of the country can be dangerous, being the cause of thousands of truck accidents and personal injuries each year. One solution that the trucking industry is considering is to remove the human element and create self-driving, autonomous 18-wheelers. However, without drivers, there is a question as to whether self-driving trucks will be safe on the nation’s highways. This discussion points out the pros and cons of self-driving trucks.

Understanding the Technology

The technology behind driverless vehicles is extremely complicated and kept very secret by the various automobile manufacturers involved with this endeavor. Most systems use a combination of cameras and radar technology to detect what is happening around the vehicle. All of the data that is collected by these devices is evaluated and manipulated by a sophisticated artificial intelligence computer system with algorithms that most people cannot hardly begin to understand. In theory, all of this technology works in a way that is much quicker and more consistent than human drivers, making driverless vehicles safer.

Removing the Human Element

Having so many large trucks on the roads and highways of the United States certainly causes a fair share of accidents. Every year, there are approximately 350,000 semi-truck accidents, and about 90 percent of those collisions are caused by some type of issue with the truck driver, whether it be drowsy driving, drunk or drugged driving, distracted driving, or some other problem with the driver. The human element definitely is a concern when it comes to the safety of the national trucking industry and fleet. Some experts argue that removing the human element will make autonomous semi-trucks safer.

There is a problem in the industry with driver fatigue. Even though truck drivers are heavily regulated in the amount of time each day they can be behind the wheel, drivers still go beyond the hour limits and often their employers turn a blind eye. Federal regulations require truck drivers to not drive more than 11 hours during a 14-hour period. Further, after a shift of continuous driving, a truck driver must rest for 10 straight hours before returning to the road. After investigations by authorities, it has been found that many trucking companies encourage their drivers to cheat on the time requirements and drive long beyond the time limits. This requires drivers to take drugs and substances to stay awake and alert, ultimately causing even more dangers and chances for accidents to occur. There have been cases in which trucking company employers have pressured their drivers to be behind the wheel 20 hours a day and work six days a week. This is a recipe for disaster for the driver, their families, and all the rest of the people on the road. Trucking companies are placing profits over the safety of people when this happens.

One scenario that has been proposed is allowing truck drivers to sleep in the cab while the truck still travels down the road. This would certainly increase the efficiency of semi-truck travel and also increase the profits of trucking companies who will not have to employ two-driver teams for long-haul trips. But drivers may be hesitant to fall asleep in the sleeper cab knowing that a machine and computer are operating the truck at significant speeds. However, before these 80,000 pound vehicles are allowed to travel 65 to 75 mph down a highway without a driver, there will have to be a significant change in the public’s opinion about the safety and efficacy of self-driving tractor trailers.

Legal Liability

One thing that the trucking industry and insurance companies have to figure out before self-driving trucks become common is the legal liability. Basically, the question is who will be held responsible when an autonomous tractor trailer is inevitably involved in an accident? An accident will happen with these vehicles, no matter how safe they are without humans involved. With a traditional truck accident, if the driver was negligent and was the cause of the accident, injured victims can sue the driver, the driver’s employer, and potentially even the company that hired the trucking company to move the product. What happens when the driver is removed? Who then will be held responsible? If the cause of the collision was the truck itself, would the manufacturer of the truck be responsible? Would the company that developed the software that controls the truck be held responsible? Autonomous truck litigation would instantly become very complicated, much more than it already is. It may be necessary for Congress to enact legislation that specifically deals with the various issues that might arise.

Social Change

One major change that will have to take place is a social change in society in which people feel more comfortable having, in effect, robots controlling large aspects of the national infrastructure. All it will take is one serious accident with a driverless truck for the entire technology to be questioned, even though there are thousands of accidents involving large trucks with human drivers every year. There are many aspects of travel that are already controlled by computers, though. For example, cruise control on vehicles is controlled by a computer. Also, auto-pilot systems in airplanes are used all the time. However, with those systems, there is always a human behind the controls. This will not be the case with autonomous trucks.

But social change is needed with most major introductions of ground-breaking technology into society. Many changes occurred in society with the invention of the telephone, automobile, and television. The internet is another major technological leap that has changed society and how people communicate, interact, and even live. There will need to be further changes in people’s thinking about robots and autonomous systems interacting with their lives even more than they already do now.

Semi-Truck Accident Litigation

Because large truck accidents can be so violent, the type of injuries seen in these crashes can be catastrophic to an individual and their family. Here are just a few of the type of injuries that could be caused by a tractor trailer accident:

  • Fatalities
  • Paralysis including quadriplegia and paraplegia
  • Multiple broken bones and fractures
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) including concussions, fractured skulls, bleeding of the brain, and swelling of the brain
  • Comas
  • Spinal cord injuries

Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Help People Seriously Injured in Tractor Trailer Accidents

Being involved in a semi-truck truck accident can cause serious personal injuries. Given that large trucks are so big and heavy, collisions involving tractor trailers can be extremely violent, causing significant injuries and even death. Also, these cases can be very complicated and require significant investigation as to what happened and who was ultimately at fault. You need to have a law firm fighting for your rights that has the knowledge, skills, and resources to take on large and powerful trucking companies and their insurance companies. The Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law are here to help you through this traumatic time. 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, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York City.