Will Commercial Trucks Be Safer in the Future?

March 17th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Advances in technology which allow automobiles to drive themselves are often in the news lately, and the trucking industry is starting to catch up. Truck manufacturers and fleet owners hope that improved technology will result in savings of fuel and time, as well as improved safety. Eventually trucks may be driving themselves, but it appears that’s still some time off.

Some technologies, such as collision mitigation (automatically slowing or stopping to avoid a collision), adaptive cruise control (maintaining not just a set speed but a set distance from the vehicle in front of the truck), lane departure systems (giving warnings if it appears the driver may be asleep or otherwise not controlling the truck) and radar (providing accurate distances to vehicles and objects around the truck) could significantly improve safety and reduce driver error.

Mercedes-Benz is the famous German luxury car maker, but it’s also one of the world’s largest commercial truck manufacturers (one of its brands is Freightliner). It recently unveiled its Future Truck 2025, according to International Business Times.

Their truck of the future still has a steering wheel and a driver’s seat (that rotates and reclines), but the driver doesn’t so much drive the truck as manage it. The interior features touch-screen computer interfaces. Many of the decisions and actions that truck drivers take now would be delegated to technology, using radar systems, cameras, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

The goal is to reduce driver error and increase fuel economy, by anticipating traffic congestion and road construction conditions and taking alternate routes, and by employing more efficient braking and acceleration. The truck should automatically maintain a consistent and safe distance from what’s ahead of it.

Mercedes-Benz estimates the truck and its technology could be viable in a decade, but some of the featured technology needs a lot more tweaking before all the capabilities are reached. Some of the key technology which relies on digital communications from those responsible for streets and highways and from other vehicles has just barely started being used.

It could take many years before this type of truck is on the roads. Mercedes gave no projected cost, but it’s probably fair to say it will be out of reach of small trucking companies and most independent owner-operators.

The trucking industry has some very “blue sky” ideas for improved truck safety in the future, but thorny issues are likely to persist. Laws and regulations probably won’t keep up with this developing technology. With drivers having less responsibility, will requirements to get a commercial driver’s license be lowered? Computers crash. Trucks run by computers will crash too — it’s just a matter of time. Linked computers in trucks and cars may make roadways much more efficient and safer in theory, but what happens when there’s a bug in the software? Or the computer systems are hacked?

These are all developing issues for the future of Kentucky’s highways and roads. If you or a family member have been injured due to a past truck accident, the Julie Butcher Law Office has extensive experience handling the claims of those injured in commercial motor vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we can help your family obtain justice.