Are Autonomous Trucks Safe?

Are Autonomous Trucks Safe?Truck manufacturers, like car manufacturers, are working hard to develop self-driving trucks. There are numerous incentives for the trucking industry starting with reducing or eliminating the need to pay for truck drivers. Truck manufacturers argue that autonomous trucks are safer, pointing to the large number of fatal truck accidents each year. Truck drivers are clearly concerned that autonomous trucks will cause unemployment. Truck drivers, car drivers, and truck safety agencies all argue that autonomous trucks are dangerous – that the software just isn’t reliable enough to make self-driving trucks safe.

Fleet Magazine reported that the Truckload Carriers Association recently held a conference about autonomous vehicles (AVs). The conference was titled “Revolutionized Trucking: Realizing the Influence of Autonomous Vehicles on Commercial Trucking.” The panel focused mostly on the pro-side of autonomous trucks including – the benefits, the timeline for deployment, and the obstacles to making self-driving trucks a reality.

Understanding the conference’s discussion requires some understanding of the levels of AVs. The levels are generally defined as follows:

  • Level 0. The human is in full control of the car – though some technology may assist the driver.
  • Level 1. The vehicle has just one automated system to assist the driver – such as cruise control.
  • Level 2. This level, partial driving automation, means that the truck can control “both steering and accelerating and decelerating.” The truck driver is seated in the truck and can control the truck at any time.
  • Level 3. This level, conditional driving automation, enables the truck to make informed decisions. The human truck driver can still override the truck’s decisions.
  • Level 4. This high driving automation level enables the truck to “intervene if things go wrong or there is a system failure. In this sense, these cars do not require human interaction in most circumstances. However, a human still has the option to manually override.”
  • Level 5. At this full driving automation level, the vehicle (truck) is in complete control of the vehicle.

The focus of the Truckload Carriers Association was on the benefits of a Level 4 system. One trucking executive said that Level 4 autonomy would create a reliable supply of automated drivers that wouldn’t be subject to the FMCSA’s Hours of Service rules. Level 4, the executive stated, would create a fuel benefit (less fuel would be needed because of efficiency),

The executive also touted a safety benefit. The safety benefit would be achieved because autonomous trucks won’t have concerns about driver fatigue, driver distraction, or driver recklessness. Other autonomous truck advocates also argued that safety is a key motivator for autonomous trucks. Fleet reported that the FMCSA estimates that US truck accidents cost more than $30 billion yearly.

The panel then tried to calm fears that autonomous trucks will affect truck drivers’ livelihoods by arguing that self-driving cars would help address the current shortage of truck drivers. The advocates of AV trucks argue that autonomous trucks would actually encourage more truck drivers because most of the workload of AV trucks will be on the long interstate hauls that take drivers away from their families and their home. With autonomous trucks, advocates argue truckers could focus on regional and local deliveries – which would encourage more drivers to work in the trucking industry. Advocates add that AV trucks should also encourage more women truck drivers because of the ability to drive during the day and be home at night.

What are some of the difficulties in developing an autonomous truck infrastructure?

There are several layers of difficulty involved with creating an autonomous trucking world. The technology needs to work. The vehicles need to be tested in a “patchwork of state-by-state regulations.” Some states are more favorable to autonomous trucks than others. The FMCSA also regulates autonomous trucks. It’s likely that US Congressional approval will be needed at some point.

A major challenge, the conference acknowledges, is the issue of liability. The issues of who will be liable, what will be required to prove liability, and other liability factors are just in their infancy. Liability issues are likely to evolve as the technology is used and there are more accidents. One executive admitted that AV technology is complicated: “Failures can occur at the level of the autonomy software,” he said. “There are also failures that can occur at the level of the base platform, and it’s really important to have a very tight partnership with the OEM in understanding how the overall system that gets delivered to a carrier works.”

The panel also discussed that there are millions of trucks on the roads now. Even if the technology is shown to be positive, it will take a long time to replace the current fleets. Currently, manufacturers of Avs are focusing on small, limited pilot projects. The purchase of fleets of trucks, at best, will be a few years in the future.

Who is liable for an autonomous truck accident in Vancouver, WA?

If an autonomous truck is involved in a truck accident that causes injuries or deaths, the following entities could all be liable:

  • The company that manufactured the autonomous truck.
  • The software programmers or programming company that creates the autonomous technology
  • The company that owns the truck

Companies that load the truck improperly will also be defendants, if the accident is caused by shifting cargo or if cargo spills in transit.

The most notable difference is that if a truck is fully self-driving, then no human truck driver will be liable because there won’t be any human drivers.

At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA truck accident lawyers are keeping current with the new trends in truck driving technology. We are prepared to file negligence, product liability, and breach of warranty claims against all responsible defendants. There are different levels of autonomous vehicles on the road now. If you are injured or a loved one is killed in an AV truck accident, call us at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis.