Self Driving Trucks a Help or Hindrance?
Will self-driving trucks become a part of a professional truck driver’s life in the foreseeable future? If so, will they be a help or hindrance to truck drivers across the country?
BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla have already introduced self-driving cars and analysts say 10 million self-driving cars could be on the road by 2020.
Self-driving trucks, too, could hit the nation’s roadways as soon as 2025. Daimler Trucks has revealed a Mercedes-Benz model that uses GPS, radar and proximity technology to handle the straightaways like a professional trucker.
But is this good news?
What Self-Driving Trucks Mean to the Industry
For the trucking industry, self-driving trucks may require adjustments in economics, risk management, and highway regulations. For instance, the 11/14 rule that dictates when drivers can work, drive, and take a break may need to be revised.
It could even change the truck driver’s daily job description. The self-driving truck will only need the driver to be alert for maneuvers like passing, meaning the driver could complete administrative tasks or plan loading and unloading.
It might also make a career as a truck driver more desirable, as a cross-country trip would be filled with plenty of downtime when they don’t need both hands on the wheel or even their eyes on the road.
The big question remains: Are self-driving trucks safe? The only basis for comparison to date is self-driving cars, and the evidence looks promising.
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), driverless cars could prevent more than 1 million deaths and up to 50 million injuries a year.
All self-driving car accidents and injuries – all minor – have been caused by a conventional car rear-ending the self-driving car. In other words, it was the fault of a human being.
Nevertheless, the trucking industry and self-driving technology both have some challenges to overcome before self-driving trucks will be ready for the long haul.
Overcoming Challenges of Self-Driving Trucks
One such challenge was highlighted by Frankie James, managing director at GM Advanced Technology, in a VentureBeat article. “As we add more and more automation, we have to worry about keeping the driver engaged enough even when they’re not ‘driving,’ so they can take over if they need to.”
This issue may be exacerbated for truck drivers, who spend up to 11 hours on the road with no passengers to keep them awake and alert. One option could be to have truckers use a Fitbit to sound an alarm if the wearable detects they are starting to fall asleep.
Still Space for Truckers
At least one fear of self-driving trucks, however, is completely unfounded. Truckers won’t be out of a trucking job due to self-driving trucks, although they will need to learn how to manage the technology.
Just as self-driving cars may promise us safer roads in the foreseeable future, self-driving trucks could enhance truck safety and make trucking a more desirable career path.