Who’s Driving? The Future of Autonomous Trucks and Road Safety

With the biggest names in the automobile business racing to the finish line, self-driving cars are just over the horizon.

Sci-fi movie-caliber technology is just out of reach, and no one is more excited than the trucking industry. Automated trucks have the potential to save trucking companies billions of dollars, and some projections put these trucks on the road as soon as 2022.

In fact, the first test run was completed in October 2016 – carrying 2,000 cases of Budweiser down 120 miles of Colorado highway.

Cool … what’s it to me?

This technology is developing quickly. People are excited.

In order to keep those people safe, legislation around self-driving vehicles needs to be developed just as quickly, but also with great care. Let’s look at some numbers:

Trucks account for only 5.6 percent of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., but a whopping 9.5 percent of driving fatalities (according to Otto, leading autonomous vehicle company).

Roughly 90 percent of road deaths are attributed to human error (University of South Carolina).

These numbers would indicate that self-driving trucks would make the roads safer, but we can’t ignore that we’re entering uncharted territory here. The number of safety threats this technology poses is unknown.

Who makes the rules?

Legislation for autonomous vehicles is currently being developed at the state level. States that are home to experimental markets such as California and Nevada are already creating regulations. Other states like Texas and Michigan will need regulation in the very near future.

However, as this technology becomes more universal the federal government will step in and provide guidelines for state legislation and for internal regulation among automotive companies.

When will this stuff actually affect me?

While we won’t see driverless trucks on the road for at least a few years, some technology advancements are here right now. For example, automatic emergency braking (AEB) is available in cars and trucks already. Many trucking companies are taking advantage of this amazing safety measure by strictly buying new trucks that have AEB. Others continue to resist the technology just to save a buck.

AEB systems can dramatically reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by truck crashes. There is no excuse for a trucking company to buy any new trucks without this technology. Regulations requiring new trucks to be AEB capable would protect all of us on the road, and government agencies responsible for road safety are responsible for putting them in place.

Do I get a say?

As always, we have more influence than we choose to exercise. Researching the subjects that affect your safety is half the battle. Following the news on self-driving vehicles and understanding industry interests is half the battle. Making a phone call or sending an email is the other half.

If you want to shape the future to keep yourself and your loved ones safe on the road, take some time to start reading up. This is a great place to start.