Can Self-Driving Technology Prevent Truck Accidents?

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There is no question that truck accidents cause some of the most devastating injuries, particularly if the truck is traveling at a high speed when the accident occurs. In most cases, it is the occupants of the passenger vehicles involved who suffer the most severe injuries. Although not all truck accidents are caused by driver error, distracted driving and drowsy driving are among the most common causes of truck accidents. Drowsy driving is a particular problem, owing to the tight deadlines that are imposed on truck drivers and the long hours behind the wheel. According to safety officials and members of the trucking industry, self-driving technology may help prevent some of these accidents and make roads and highways safer. Although fully automated commercial trucks are likely years away, there are a range of automation options that truck companies are currently testing on highways across the United States, with promising results.

What are the Key Benefits of Self-Driving Trucks?

Most truck accidents are caused by human error, whether that involves distracted driving, drowsy driving, speeding, or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Depending on the degree of autonomy, self-driving trucks have the potential to reduce accidents that are caused by human error. The following are some of the major advantages of self-driving trucks:

  • Improved safety: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), close to 5,000 people died in commercial truck accidents in 2018. Trucks that are controlled by a computer will always follow the speed limit, maintain the correct following distance, stay in their lane, and adjust the vehicle’s speed based on changes in traffic. Autonomous trucks do not drive drunk, nor do they get distracted by a phone call or text. Autonomous trucks also address one of the biggest safety issues in the trucking industry, which is drowsy driving. Truck drivers are under constant pressure to meet tight delivery deadlines, which means that they often continue to drive, even when they are exhausted and in need of sleep. This is not an issue for autonomous trucks.
  • Efficiency: Autonomous trucks can move more cargo using the same or fewer number of drivers. They can also sync with other autonomous trucks on long stretches of highway. Fleets that travel together can reduce wind resistance by platooning, which is when two or more trucks form a convoy using automated connectivity technology. This saves money on fuel.
  • Reduced traffic: Autonomous trucks can easily travel during off-peak hours, which can reduce the number of commercial trucks on the highway during the busiest travel times of the day. They can also plan their routes to avoid high traffic areas. Statistically speaking, the more traffic there is on the roads, the more likely it is that a serious accident can occur.
  • No breaks needed: Truck drivers are required to take breaks based on the hours of service regulations. These regulations would not apply to automated trucks.
  • Environmental benefits: In addition to being more efficient, autonomous trucks have the potential to be more environmentally friendly as well. By maintaining the speed limit, autonomous trucks cause less wear and tear on roadways, which means that costly road maintenance projects can be avoided. The fuel efficiency of autonomous trucks is also good for the environment.
  • Job opportunities: Although there has been much speculation that autonomous trucks will cause truck drivers to lose their jobs, many in the trucking industry believe that automation may create new opportunities for truck drivers. The reality is that long-haul trucking is a difficult job that keeps truck drivers away from their homes and families for days or weeks at a time. Long-haul truck drivers are also known to suffer from a range of health issues, including obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, musculoskeletal injuries, high blood pressure, and diabetes. According to the American Trucking Association, there is a shortage of over 60,000 drivers, and that number is expected to increase to approximately 160,000 by 2028. Autonomous trucks may present more appealing job opportunities that allow drivers to spend more time with their families while still driving a truck. For example, the industry will need drivers to take over for the first-mile pickups and last-mile deliveries in complex urban environments. This could have a positive impact on drivers and on the industry as a whole.

Are There Drawbacks to Self-Driving Truck Technology?

Like any new technology, there are pros and cons associated with autonomous truck technology, and it is important to examine both. The following are some of the drawbacks of self-driving trucks:

  • Truck drivers replaced by computers: Although autonomous trucks may present new job opportunities for truck drivers, many drivers are concerned that they will lose their jobs, or that their jobs will change significantly as self-driving trucks become more widespread. There is also the question of salaries, and how truck drivers will be paid for the time they spend in the truck, but not behind the wheel. Truck companies may want to negotiate smaller paychecks for drivers who are essentially passengers for much of the trip.
  • Legal issues: There are a wide range of legal issues surrounding autonomous trucks, including who is liable if an autonomous truck is involved in an accident, and if another motorist is seriously injured or killed. These are important issues that will need to be sorted out before these trucks can be used.

What are the Different Levels of Truck Autonomy?

There are five levels of truck autonomy, all of which have different implications for the trucking industry, including the following:

  • Driver assistance: This gives drivers the ability to control either steering or acceleration/deceleration; one function is controlled automatically.
  • Partial automation: Drivers can control steering and acceleration/deceleration; the driver is ready to take vehicle control.
  • Conditional automation: All safety functions are automated, but the driver takes over in certain traffic or weather conditions.
  • High automation: All tasks are automated, but the driver is still present.
  • Full automation: This handles all roadway conditions and environments without the driver present. 

Adaptive cruise control and lane assist features are examples of driver assistance and are already available in cars and trucks. Partial automation is being implemented in prototype fleets by companies such as Peloton and Tesla. The system becomes a bit more involved in conditional automation. Although the driver can choose which features to employ during long-haul routes, he or she must maintain control of the vehicle throughout the trip. The shift to conditional automation is a major leap toward an autonomous market. High automation differs from conditional automation in that the vehicle operates on its own in all scenarios, but a human driver is in the truck. Full automation is likely years away from being a reality. A human driver would no longer be present in the truck.

How Can Drivers Avoid a Truck Accident?

It is not always possible to avoid large commercial trucks when driving on a busy highway. However, there are things drivers can do to avoid getting into a devastating accident with one of these massive vehicles. The following safety tips can help motorists stay safe and prevent a truck accident:

  • A safe following distance must be maintained. Trucks require more road space to slow down or come to a complete stop. Drivers leaving enough space between themselves and a truck will give them enough time to react to a hazardous condition.
  • Drivers must use caution when passing a truck. Trucks require more distance to stop, so drivers should never cut in front of a truck, or they could get rear-ended. If a driver does not have room to pass, they should stay in their lane.
  • Drivers should avoid a truck’s blind spot. Trucks have large blind spots, so one must be careful when passing. If a driver cannot see the trucker’s face in the mirror, the truck driver cannot see the other driver. It is important to pass on the left because the blind spot is longer on the right.
  • Trucks need plenty of room when turning. Trucks make very wide turns, so drivers need to give the truck more room than they think it needs to turn. Drivers should never try to sneak by a truck while it is turning.
  • Drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings. One moment of distraction can have devastating consequences if it results in a truck accident.
  • Extra caution is needed in bad weather. Drivers need to be especially careful when driving in the vicinity of a large truck during inclement weather.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers  Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Autonomous Truck Accidents

If you were seriously injured in a truck accident involving an autonomous truck, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the events leading up to the accident and determine who is responsible for your injuries. Our dedicated team will protect your legal rights and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation for your injuries. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.