Self-driving semis: Could they be on the roads soon?

We have often discussed the catastrophic consequences of truck accidents on this blog. One mistake or delayed reaction from a truck driver could spell disaster for other motorists who get involved in a serious crash.

Many of these crashes stem from human errors. A distracted driver fails to see traffic stopping ahead and cannot slow down in time to avoid a collision; a drowsy driver falls asleep at the wheel and drifts into other lanes; a trucker takes a turn while speeding and loses control of the rig. These are all accidents that are caused by humans, which is why one company hopes that the development of autonomous semis could dramatically improve road safety.

According to reports, car manufacturer Daimler has been developing semi trucks that can be operated by a computer. Described as “autopilot for trucks,” the system essentially works by regulating a truck’s speed and using lasers and sensors to avoid obstacles and stay within boundaries on the road.

The manufacturer notes that the system would be most helpful during long trips on highways, which is when many truckers can lose focus or get sleepy. By allowing a computer system to take over, it can be easier for a truck to stay in its lane, maintain a safe speed and avoid crashing into other vehicles. They won’t be completely autonomous, however, as a human driver will still need to be present so that he or she can take control when appropriate.

This technology certainly seems promising, especially in light of the similar developments of self-driving passenger vehicles. However, the system is still in testing mode and may not be available for at least a couple years, even by optimistic standards.

In the meantime, truck safety remains firmly in the control of truck operators and owners. If they make a mistake or unsafe decision, they can and should be held accountable for the damage that results. If you have been injured in an accident with a commercial truck, you can discuss your options and your legal rights with an attorney.

Source: BBC, “Autonomous trucks: Daimler seeks license for road tests,” July 27, 2015