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Will Autonomous Trucks be Safer Than Human Drivers?

Will Autonomous Trucks be Safer Than Human Drivers?

Auto, Aviation & Transportation


Over recent years, there has been a race to put self-driving vehicles on our roads. Unfortunately, as more traffic hits our road, injuries and fatalities will continue to rise in many states throughout the U.S. Autonomous vehicles are purported to be a vision of the future that offers fewer accidents, as well as safe transportation for people and goods from one place to another. As trucking companies make moves toward autonomous driving, it comes into question whether or not it is the safest way to transport goods. Advocates of autonomous trucks argue that they will provide increased efficiency and safety for all road users but the technology is still evolving and it is unclear if autonomous vehicles will be safer than human drivers.

Levels of Autonomous Driving 

At this point in time, technology has not yet allowed us to achieve levels of efficiency that are necessary to put full self-driving trucks on our roads. Though autonomous functionality is limited in vehicles in our modern times, this technology is rapidly advancing and we could see a boom in autonomous driving in the years to come. 

There are six levels of autonomy defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which include the following: 

Level 0: no automation

Level 1: automation with driver assistance

Level 2: partial driving automation

Level 3: automation on a conditional level

Level 4: high amount of driving automation

Level 5: full automation without driver assistance 

In levels where a driver is still required to be in the vehicle, human intervention could happen if there is any autonomy-related issue. In higher levels of automation, pedals or a steering wheel would not even be equipped in the truck, as it is unnecessary for a human driver to be present. 

A Look into Autonomous Truck Safety: Edge Cases

One of the reasons why full autonomous trucking is not a reality in our modern times and why safety is called into question is because of what are known as ‘edge cases.’ These cases are those that happen outside of normal operating conditions on our roads. For instance, the chance that a child will run out in-between vehicles and into traffic so that they can chase after a dog is low and even miniscule in some places. However, there is always a chance that one of these situations can happen and an autonomous truck may not be trained to recognize this scenario. This can lead to serious damages or even fatal results, which is why improvements in autonomy must be made before an autonomous truck hits the road. 

Until edge cases are accounted for on a higher level and more research on this technology is conducted, it is unlikely that we will see autonomous trucks on our roads until years from now. As the technology advances and we become closer to seeing these vehicles on our roads, some states and cities are beginning pass regulations. California recently passed AB 316, which will require a human operated in any autonomous vehicle over 10,000 pounds. Luckily, as highway driving is not as complex as navigating cities or back roads, autonomous trucking could become a reality sooner than that of fully autonomous motor vehicles. Not only could this technology save companies time and money, but it could also offer safety benefits by reducing truck driver error, which makes up a large percentage of truck accident cases. 

New technology is always being introduced and new innovations improve overall safety as autonomous driving becomes a roadway reality. With large entities like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulating this technology, safety will always come first and will be key when it comes to autonomous trucking and its existence. 

Will Autonomous Trucks be Safer Than Human Drivers?