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Published On: Wed, Jul 13th, 2022

Are Autonomous Freight Trucks the Answer?

Can self-driving freight trucks solve the current issues in the trucking industry? Not exactly, even though autonomous trucks seem so promising.

In the last few years, the trucking industry has suffered some great losses and inconveniences. For example, it’s been difficult to source commercial trucks in America, so companies are importing semis and tractor-trailers from Canada.

Although this seems like an inconvenience, it’s a benefit, considering it is cheaper to import commercial vehicles.

Other difficulties facing the trucking industry include a shortage of drivers, as well as strict COVID-19 regulations that make routes take longer. For instance, there have been quarantine and testing requirements for drivers that cause delays.

Some companies want to eliminate human drivers

To get around the impact of COVID-19 regulation delays, many companies are looking into using autonomous freight trucks to completely eliminate the human driver. They believe that by not having a driver, they’ll avoid the quarantine and testing requirements when trucks take certain routes. This is true, but it’s not necessarily the best solution.

Although the pandemic-related regulations inspired many companies to start looking at autonomous vehicles, there are other reasons companies are considering self-driving trucks.

The problem doesn’t lie with why companies are looking at autonomous trucks, although many people do have a problem with eliminating human workers. The bigger issue is whether or not autonomous trucks are safe and efficient.

Are autonomous freight trucks safe?

There are always inherent risks when autonomous vehicles and large commercial trucks already pose a significantly higher risk on the road. Because of their size and weight, an accident involving a semi-trailer or tractor has a much larger potential to be fatal than an accident involving two passenger vehicles. When a large commercial truck isn’t being operated by a human driver, that risk is even greater.

There have already been many incidents, including injuries and fatalities, involving autonomous vehicles. For example, in 2018, a pedestrian named Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle while walking her bike across the road. The “safety driver” was streaming an episode of The Voice rather than watching the road like they were supposed to be doing.

This accident was the first recorded fatal collision between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian. It happened at night, which could be why the vehicle failed to detect the pedestrian crossing the road. It should be noted that the pedestrian wasn’t crossing in a crosswalk; however, most drivers would have been able to see her crossing the road.

In a similar incident, a Google Waymo self-driving car struck a motorcyclist who survived the crash. Google claims the accident was caused by the driver since the driver took control of the car just before the crash.

However, the driver took control of the vehicle to avoid a car merging into his lane.

If neither Uber nor Google have autonomous vehicle software good enough to detect unexpected obstacles, like close-merging cars and pedestrians in the dark, it’s safe to say autonomous commercial trucks will have the same problem. The software itself isn’t perfect, and there’s no telling when (or if) it will be good enough to avoid all injuries and fatalities.

Add on top of that the fact that any company able to make their software extremely safe will have their algorithms patented to prevent other companies from using it, which means some software will be safer than others.

Do trucking companies need autonomous vehicles to recover?

Economic experts predict that the trucking industry is poised for a strong recovery, and the restrictive regulations may not be an ongoing issue. Trucking companies would be wise to pause and see how things go before investing in expensive technology to avoid delays on the road.

Markets are recovering steadily, and consumer purchasing has been rising strongly since 2020. This is giving the trucking industry a good comeback, and this activity is expected to continue throughout 2022 and beyond.

Autonomous commercial trucks? We aren’t there yet

Self-driving freight trucks are far more expensive than autonomous passenger vehicles, which makes them a big investment for any trucking company. While there will always be companies looking for the latest and greatest to stay on the cutting-edge of technology, we probably won’t see many autonomous commercial trucks for a while.

Author: Anna Johansson

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