Autonomous Trucks Will Be on the Roads, But Don’t Hold Your Breath

June 16th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Billions of dollars are being invested across the globe to develop effective, safe and affordable trucks and cars that drive themselves. These vehicles could be able to safely navigate Kentucky’s many, varied roads to deliver their cargo without drivers. For truck companies, this future — despite the high cost of the truck — could result in huge savings in costs and improved efficiency.

  • There would be no drivers to pay.
  • Without drivers but computers actually in control, there would be no need for trucks to pull over for drivers to rest, sleep, eat or use a bathroom. They could just keep on rolling, day and night, 24/7.
  • Autonomous trucks could tailgate one another and draft each other like race cars, making for substantial savings in fuel.
  • The latest radar and digital camera technologies could help drive the trucks and avoid accidents that might have been caused by distracted, inattentive or fatigued drivers.

Despite this tantalizing prospect of safer, cheaper and more efficient trucking, there are multiple obstacles that could delay the widespread use of these types of trucks. The technology isn’t mature enough, and it may take several years, if not decades, before that happens.

Though there have been great leaps in the power of computer hardware, creating software that can replicate a truck driver’s brain is years off. Google is working on an autonomous vehicle and is trying to cross some of the hardest technology divides when it comes to driving,

  • Safe driving involves much more than avoiding collision with objects and pedestrians or recognizing stop signs and stop lights. We humans use “social cues” while driving. We establish eye contact or infer how a driver may behave based on the vehicle’s make and model, according to MIT Technology Review.
  • A computer may read maps well and be able to stop a vehicle before it hits a tree, but how should it interpret a human being directing traffic? If it doesn’t understand directions communicated with arms and hands, it may plow into a dangerous situation or simply not move and block traffic.
  • Driving on a highway may be relatively simple, while the complications of driving in a town or city pose far more potential problems.

About 500 experts attending a conference on autonomous vehicles in 2014 were asked when they thought they could trust a fully robotic car to take their children to school.

  • More than half said 2030 at the very earliest.
  • A fifth said not until 2040.
  • Roughly 10% said “never.”

There are also substantial financial and legal roadblocks.

  • Insurance is critical to the trucking industry. Insurers will have to determine how to underwrite insurance policies for driverless trucks. Those premiums will have to reach a point where trucking companies can afford them and the number of accidents won’t put a dent in the insurers’ bottom lines.
  • When a driverless truck causes an accident, who will be responsible in civil court? Right now, depending on the facts of the case, there may be any number of defendants. With an autonomous truck, the companies creating the computer driving the truck, writing the software and supplying the radar and digital cameras could also be liable for damages from a truck accident.
  • When accidents occur and the truck driver is responsible, he or she will often be given a ticket or be arrested, depending on how serious the law violation and the harm done. If a driverless truck makes a mistake, causes a crash and people are injured or killed, how would law enforcement determine if someone should be arrested? How long would that take?

Driverless trucks are not on the road yet. The trucks we deal with day in and day out are all too often controlled by drivers who make mistakes and cause accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a negligent truck driver in Kentucky, call the Julie Butcher Law Office at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form to talk about your case and your legal options.