Autonomous Driving and The Trucking Industry

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The trucking industry is in the midst of a driver shortage, particular when it comes to long-haul jobs. Days or weeks on the road are not an attractive option to many, especially when they have their families waiting for them to come home. Trucking companies struggle to hire and maintain employment for drivers who want to drive cross-country. The trucking shortage has become so bad that many employers are offering lucrative bonuses and other perks for signing contracts. Still, the industry struggles to keep up with demand.

Autonomous vehicle has been a hot button topic for cars, and now it’s hitting the commercial vehicle industry. Could driverless vehicles be the answer to the driver shortage? Will it be safe and effective? Let’s explore the pros and cons.

Pros of Driverless Trucks

One of the biggest pros of autonomous trucking is that will fill a gap in the trucking shortage, allowing more long-haul trucking. It’s also a safe method of transportation. Since the vast majority of semi-truck accidents arise from driver error, it seems that autonomous trucks could be instrumental in reducing the number of accidents and injuries.

Autonomous vehicles are also more environmentally friendly than traditional trucks. Drivers naturally accelerate and decelerate on the freeway, which takes more gas and increases emissions. The adaptive cruise control of an autonomous vehicle, on the other hand, will burn less fuel and save both money and energy. One startup in California is also considering the possibility of autonomous platooning, which is a practice in which trucks follow one another and still keep a safe distance, reducing wind resistance and promoting a fuel savings of 7%.

Cons of Automated Trucking

While driverless trucks seem to have promising benefits – fewer injuries and fatalities, filling gaps in the industry, and promoting energy savings – they also have a few disadvantages. These include:

  • Lack of oversight. One of the largest problems right now is that there is no organization that oversees autonomous vehicles for quality assurance. Right now, a collection of start-ups and Silicon Valley firms control driverless technology. If this industry wants to grow into a reality, these companies must bond together with organizations like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and work collaboratively to set quality standards.
  • Most technology will still be driver-assisted. Much of the driverless technology available today still requires driver assistance, which doesn’t do much to address the shortage in the industry. While fully autonomous technology exists, it will likely need monitoring until we know for sure it’s safe and effective – which may require driver intervention at times.
  • Litigation concerns. Finally, there’s the question of what happens if a driverless commercial motor vehicle injures or kills another person. Who is responsible? The trucking company? The manufacturer of the truck or the technology? This is still an evolving area of law, as there is very little legal precedent.

Autonomous trucks have the potential to revolutionize the industry. However, there is still much to figure out before these vehicles hit the mainstream and take over our roadways. Technology firms and the government must work together to ensure that these trucks are both safe and effective.