Published On: Tue, Sep 30th, 2014

Modern Machines: Are We Really Ready for Driverless Trucks?

You’ve heard of Google’s driverless car, right? Well, if you haven’t get a load of this: Google’s Driverless Car. While driverless cars aren’t mainstream yet, driverless semi-trucks are making headway and may be coming to a road near you very soon. Engineers at Germany’s biggest trucking company are working on a way to remove human error from the driving equation.

Driverless Trucks

Daimler AG has already demonstrated that trucks equipped with its advanced Highway Pilot assistance system can drive through a stretch of the A-14 Autobahn near the city of Magdeburg.

Trucks with the Pilot enabled can safely drive up to 85km/h (50 mph).

A stumbling block is legislation. Obviously, trucks driving themselves presents special liability challenges from both a legal and insurance perspective. The company likens their Highway Pilot to the autopilot system in airplanes.

But critics aren’t convinced it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Some truckers are undoubtedly upset at the prospect of losing their job to a computer system. Regulators are concerned about the autonomous nature of such systems, and people on the road may be in for a shock when they stroll beside a vehicle with no one in it.

Trucking companies aren’t looking to replace drivers just yet though. They hope that their technology makes driving safer. It’s good for business.

By having a driver-assisted system, trucking companies cut way down on liability concerns. And, trucking companies are looking to reassign truckers as “transport managers” rather than keeping them on as drivers.

Another possible benefit to truckers is an improvement in lifestyle. Right now, there’s a severe shortage of truckers in the industry – especially for long-haul trucking. It’s an unpleasant job. You leave on Monday and get home Saturday. You can’t really raise a family like that. But, automated systems would mean that you would still have a long workweek, but one driver could manage a fleet of trucks. Perhaps two drivers could be used to keep the trucks going day and night – one for day-shift and one for night-shift.

This would greatly improve the quality of life for a trucker, since he or she is not strapped to the steering wheel for 8 to 12 hours a day.

It may also allow truckers to “switch off” more frequently, since more trucks can be moved at one time.

Common Causes Of Truck Accidents

The most common causes of truck accidents always include human error, and this is where automated systems can dramatically reduce or eliminate the problem altogether. With a driver-assisted, or driverless, system, the trucker becomes more of a “manager” than a driver. Sensors placed all around the vehicle can spot obstacles in the road faster, and with greater accuracy, than a human driver. Computers also have faster reaction times for all kinds of unexpected incidents, like a deer bolting out into the middle of the road.

Regulatory and Liability Concerns

If something gets in the way of this new technology, it will be regulation. One problem yet to be sorted out is who will be responsible for the new trucks in the event of an accident? Will the driver’s insurance company (the trucking company’s insurer) be liable, will the computer system’s manufacturer, or will the trucking company itself be on the hook?

These are legal questions that must be determined by lawyers and the courts. But, if politicians are paralyzed by uncertainty surrounding liability, it could sideline innovation for years.

Keith Kofsky, Esq, is always on the lookout for ways to make driving safer. A personal injury attorney in the Philadelphia area, his goal is to protect victims. Look for his enlightening articles on varous blog sites.