It’s no secret that modern technology is advancing toward putting automated trucks on our roadways. In fact, there are already fully autonomous models available. However, this development has caused concern, and a lot of truckers worrying about their job security.
Hearing from the Public
On April 24, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration held a listening session to address some of the public’s concerns. Ahost of people X from all corners of the transportation industry attended. Fleet executives, law enforcement officers, original equipment manufacturer representatives, and technology developers (including Uber) also made appearances.
Many attendees expressed worry. Truckers worry they’ll become obsolete and lose their jobs. Insurance companies don’t want to cover accidents where the truck was piloting itself. Some businesses aren’t comfortable shipping fragile or perishable goods with a “self-driving” vehicle.
Getting the Facts
The problem with most of these concerns is that they’re based on a misguided vision of what autonomous trucks really are – autonomous trucks aren’t completely self-driven vehicles. In fact, an actual driver must stay behind the wheel at all times. Some argue the word autonomous is a misnomer, and say we should call “self-driving” vehicles “driving-assistance” vehicles.
Certain driving conditions will still rely fully on human navigation, such as backing the truck up to a loading dock. When weather conditions are poor, the driver would also take control. Really, the only time the truck will be driving itself is on the highway while set at a steady speed.
The truck’s technology will keep it from veering out of its lane, but it’s not much different than setting cruise control and coasting along the roadways.
Another important question about autonomous trucks is how the Hours of Service rules will change and whether drivers behind the wheel could stay attentive when not actively piloting the rig for hours. There were even questions about the possibility of hacking the truck’s systems and causing a security risk.
Other people raised contingency issues, for instance, when a tire blows out. They wanted to know, primarily, if the vehicle would be able to compensate and stay on the road, particularly with the theorized “level 5” autonomy – a truck with no driver at all. Second, if it maintained control but a piece of the tire struck another car, how would the victim flag the truck down and bring it to a stop? Some believe that with full autonomy, a passenger in such a situation would have to tail the truck until it reached its destination. Similarly, police officers are worried about being able to stop the trucks if the driver is asleep or completely removed (in the case of level 5).
The FMCSA’s Stance
During the listening session, FMCSA representatives did their best to explain their intentions and the projected future of autonomous vehicles. Daphne Jefferson, deputy administrator for the FMCSA, said she doesn’t want to impede progress. Her aim is to run along with developments as they continue.
Autonomous trucks could be very good for drivers. They could lower fuel costs, reduce workloads, and help fill some of the empty positions by drawing in new truckers. Change may seem daunting, but it’s more exciting than frightening