News Room

Self-Driving Trucks Are Here: Will This Make Consumers Safer?

Written on Behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

June 9, 2017


Semi-trucks are involved in hundreds of thousands of crashes every year in America and about 4,000 of those incidents are fatal, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Truck driving is one of the deadliest jobs, with nearly 750 truckers killed behind the wheel in 2015.

There’s an urgency to make trucking safer, not just for drivers, but for the public too, which shares the road with giant 18-wheelers. The era of self-driving trucks is rapidly approaching and while advocates are promising an array of safety benefits, it’s unclear who’s writing the rules.

A majority of states are now considering legislation or have passed laws related to autonomous cars and the potential impact these self-driving vehicles will have on U.S. roadways. Many consumer advocates are now urging the federal government to issue stronger guidelines when it comes to self-driving trucks.

A DOT study finds the most common cause of truck accidents involves human error. The top infractions are speeding, lane drifting, driving off the edge of the road, distraction from the use of cell phones, improper maneuvering of a turn or through an intersection, colliding with a stopped vehicle and driver fatigue. Trucking companies eager to cut the costs associated with fatal and injury accidents are embracing self-driving technology, which would enable semi-trucks to operate without a human in the driver’s seat.

Artificial intelligence eliminates some of the risk factors where humans fall short: robots don’t get tired, bored or distracted. Mercedes-Benz has already created a self-driving truck, and a competitor, Tesla, has announced plans to incorporate autopilot technology in its future electric semi. Google’s self-driving technology company, Waymo, is also exploring self-driving technology for trucks after logging millions of miles driving autonomous cars on public roads. Another company called Otto, which was recently acquired by Uber, is also testing its autonomous trucks on U. S. highways.

Autonomous trucks are stoking fear of massive job losses for truck drivers, who see their livelihoods displaced by robots. While studies by global think tanks have found that automated trucks could cut the demand for human drivers by as much as 50 to 70 percent, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a less gloomy view. The chief counsel for Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets believes a full-scale deployment of automated trucks will not happen quickly. In fact, some companies are finding a way to incorporate AI technology with the help of humans. Starsky Robotics is a startup working on an automated driving system that operates the truck on the open highway but requires a human driver operating remotely to navigate the challenges of surface streets.

Relying on autopilot has its downsides as we’ve seen in some of the high-profile accidents involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous car technology.  A Stanford University robotics researcher recently published an essay that shows Tesla’s self-driving technology had an alarming inability to recognize cyclists. However, there are no reported incidents where Tesla cars driving on autopilot have collided with bicyclists.

As auto manufacturers and tech companies accelerate towards the future of self-driving trucks, consumers must recognize that autonomous driving isn’t foolproof. Self-driving technology relies on the expectation that humans are on standby, ready to take control if something goes wrong. But distracted driving is already a huge problem, and if we rely too heavily on self-driving mechanisms, accidents can still happen. Consumer advocates must lead the way to hold the industry accountable to ensure that the public is properly educated on how this technology plays a role in safer transportation but is not a panacea.

When a trucking accident occurs in California, a lawyer who knows the rules and regulations under the laws of California is needed. Damages caused by a truck accident can be severe including death, brain injury, broken bones, disfigurement, burns, spinal code injury, paralysis, and amputation. Victims of these severe injuries often endure multiple surgeries and therapies, and require long-term, costly medical care.

Many firms claim that they are successful trucking accident attorneys, yet their record is void of any results. If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury, or even death, because of a large truck accident, contact KBK, one of the leading truck accident attorneys in Los Angeles, without delay. We have the experienced truck accident attorney team in Los Angeles necessary to fight for your recovery.