Autonomous Trucks Coming to the US – Are They Safe?

autonomous truckSelf-driving vehicles are among the most talked about technologies today. Automotive and tech companies like Google, Apple, Toyota, Ford, Aurora Innovation,, and many others are investing heavily in developing autonomous vehicles. Investment in driverless technology has been more than $1.6 billion in February this year.

However, a lot of people are concerned about road safety when driverless vehicles are put on the road. Most individuals are particularly concerned about heavy autonomous trucks that could lead to fatal collisions. Here, we will take a look at the autonomous technology and evaluate whether these concerns hold any merit.

Autonomous Vehicles: An Overview

Autonomous vehicles are not commercially available at present. However, various companies have demonstrated prototype self-driving cars and trucks over the past few years. These vehicles have sensors and applications that let them drive with little to no human interaction.

Driverless vehicles use sensors to know about incoming traffic. Sensors also inform the car about the traffic surrounding it. The vehicles create and update an internal map using multiple sensors. For instance, the self-driving prototypes of Uber use sixty-four laser beams to create the map. Other companies have used HD cameras, radar, lasers, and even sonar to locate vehicles.

Software processes the images, and the videos are taken by the sensors to plot a path. This instruction is then sent to the actuator of the vehicle that controls acceleration, deceleration, steering, and braking. The software has collision prevention and object differentiation algorithms. The algorithm allows autonomous vehicles to follow road rules and avoid an accident.

Are Autonomous Trucks Safe?

A number of truck companies have announced the shift to autonomous trucks. Australian mining firm Rio Tinto has announced that it will expand the fleet from 80 to 140 by the end of 2019. Proponents of autonomous trucks say that they can theoretically ease congestion, reduce the number of collisions, and save lives. However, the data collected does not support these claims.

Design Flaws

A National Transportation Safety Board report mentioned that design limitation has been a major cause of accidents involving self-driving vehicles. The present autonomous systems are not developed to detect cars turning into their path. Instead, these systems help car drivers prevent rear-end collisions.
Due to faulty sensors, dozens of deaths have been associated with self-driving vehicles. If more autonomous vehicles hit the road, the fatalities could increase significantly.

Lack of Road Infrastructure

The road infrastructure needs to be upgraded before driverless trucks can be considered safe. Autonomous vehicles require clearly painted lines and smooth roads to position themselves. Things such as potholes and dilapidated paint lines pose a danger for driverless vehicles.
To ensure that the driverless trucks do not get into accidents, the roads need to be perfectly maintained. Additional funds are required to repair and maintain all the roads to prevent the risk of fatal collisions.

Faulty Assistive Safety Technologies

Autonomous vehicles depend on assistive technologies for preventing a collision. However, a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has warned that existing technologies such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and active lane guidance systems can be fatal without manual intervention.

Unregulated Industry

At the moment, the autonomous vehicle is largely unregulated. Any company can easily release an autonomous vehicle while dodging accountability for design defects or other issues. No solid facts are available at the moment to develop safety standards for autonomous trucks. This can create difficulty when suing a guilty driver or manufacturing company in court.

Risk of Car Hacking

Hacking is a serious risk for autonomous trucks. Any device that is connected to the net can be a target for hackers. The cars rely on an online connection to navigate through the roads. A hacker who can gain access to the central control of an driverless truck can create havoc resulting in crashes and deaths.

In addition, there is a risk of theft of private data. Hackers can gain access to a smartphone or another mobile device connected to the car’s Bluetooth. Autonomous trucks are also susceptible to computer viruses.

Software Glitches

Another danger of autonomous trucks is the possibility of a crash due to faulty software. There are about 40 to 100 computers in a driverless car. A glitch in any of the devices could result in a collision. The software can also freeze that can result in a catastrophic accident.

The Uncertainty of Driverless Big Rigs

No one knows for sure whether autonomous cars and semi-trucks will really be able to save lives as claimed by its proponents. Rushing driverless trucks to the market can have disastrous consequences as autonomous vehicles have been shown to hit stationary objects even when they are within the range of the sensor, drifting out of the lane, and accelerating or decelerating suddenly. All of this suggests that autonomous trucks may not be ready for mainstream yet.

While no fatal accidents have been reported involving autonomous trucks, the outcome can be grave once a large number of trucks are on the road.
Accidents involving trucks are particularly dangerous since major truck accident cases involve serious injuries leading to permanent or temporary disability.

If you have been involved in a truck accident, you need to connect with an experienced truck accident attorney. Truck accident cases are more complex as compared to those involving car or motorcycle accidents.

Determining liability & responsibility in a truck accident is not easy because there may be several liable parties ranging from the truck manufacturer, guidance system designer, sensor manufacturer and so on. An experienced attorney will help you successfully file a case against a guilty driver and the employer. The attorney will know what evidence to collect to ensure that the guilty party is held accountable for the losses due to injuries.