Self-Driving Trucks Could Hit the Roadways Sooner Than You Think


May 22, 2016

Self-driving cars have long been the dream of the future, but it seems that self-driving trucks might make their way to mass production first. Self-driving trucks could replace human truck drivers in the near future and such vehicles may help to reduce accident rates considerably because they eliminate the number one cause of truck accidents—human error. However, some oppose the roll-out of self-driving trucks because it will eliminate millions of jobs nationwide.

At Montlick & Associates, Attorneys at Law, our truck accident attorneys closely follow the development of self-driving cars and trucks. These new technologies will shape the future of the automotive and trucking industries. The following is a look at the emerging field of self-driving trucks and safety tips to keep you safe around tractor trailers, both automated and not.

A Push for Self-Driving Trucks

Technology company Otto, led by several former Google engineers, is attempting to revolutionize the trucking industry by taking the human element out of it. The engineers of Otto feel that automating trucks is the more financially viable move, rather than working towards self-driving cars. These researchers argue that self-driving technology will make cars unaffordable for almost all Americans. In contrast, newer tractor trailers will often cost more than $150,000. Adding robotic features to these already expensive vehicles could make more sense.

This push for automating the trucking industry is not without controversy, however. Many urge that doing so would eliminate more than three million jobs across the nation. Even further, many small towns along the interstate rely on the business that stems from the trucking industry. Despite some concern and opposition, the group at Otto is moving forward. The company has now employed 41 people and is test driving self-driving trucks in Nevada.

Right now, the company has developed an array of sensors, radars, and cameras that are similar to those found on Google prototype self-driving cars. This sensor system will soon be offered to truck owners as an upgrade that could be incorporated in their existing trucks. Eventually, Otto envisions these sensor systems to allow truckers to nap while traveling on safe stretches of road. This could cut down on tired driving and increase productivity. Some states have laws in place that would permit such a feat, but more legislation will likely be passed in the coming future.

No one expects the entire trucking industry to become fully automated overnight, but changes like those proposed by Otto should start a movement in the direction towards automation. The future will determine how society embraces self-driving vehicles and the impact of these trucks on nationwide safety in the industry.

Human Error is the Primary Cause of Truck Accidents

Human error is considered to be the top cause of truck accidents. Reports indicate that human error may account for some 93 to 99 percent of motor vehicle crashes. Some of the most common causes of tractor trailer accidents include, among others:

  1. Drowsy driving—Truck drivers normally work long, often odd hours. Being on the road for so long can lead to tired driving. While federal law regulates the hours a truck driver can work, many feel these laws do not go far enough. Even further, some truckers breach the hours of service requirements due to industry pressures. Tired truckers pose a considerable threat to road users, as the public realized with the recent Tracy Morgan crash and the truck accident that claimed the lives of the five nursing students here in Georgia.
  2. Speeding—Truck accidents become more deadly with each mile of increased speed. Truckers are often experienced drivers that spend a lot of time on the road. Speeding trucks are dangerous for the drivers and passengers of motor vehicles.
  3. Drug and alcohol use—Alcohol and drug use is a dangerous factor among truckers. Truck drivers spend long hours on the road and may turn to alcohol to break up the monotony. Drug use often involves stimulants that truckers use to stay awake during their long work shifts. Both drugs and alcohol severely impair driver perception, reaction times, and much more, resulting in serious accidents.
  4. Driver distraction—Truck drivers may be tempted to use their cell phones while driving, eat, text, email, read, or engage in grooming or other distracting tasks. Driving while distracted is dangerous for any driver, but especially so when you are driving an 80,000-pound truck. Truck drivers are urged to put away their phones and save all tasks that are not related to driving until they safely stop in a rest area.
  5. Road rage—Being stuck in traffic can be frustrating for anyone. Truck drivers travel across the country and have financial incentives to make their destinations quickly. Being stuck in traffic can trigger extreme road rage for these reasons. Aggressive driving with such a large vehicle can cause fatal accidents.
  6. Failure to follow safety rules—Many accidents result from the simple failure to abide by traffic regulations. Truckers violate rules of the road by not using their turn signal, running stop lights, not maintaining a safe following distance and others. When a truck driver violates a basic traffic rule, he or she can be held accountable for the injuries that result.
  7. Inadequate training—Tractor trailers are massive vehicles with specialized brake systems. Their drivers must be adequately trained before taking their vehicles to the roadways. At times, trucking companies cut corners and do not train their drivers sufficiently. Inexperienced drivers can make costly errors.
  8. Mechanical issues—Tractor trailers must be meticulously maintained to function safely. The brakes and tires are two components within a tractor-trailer that can fail and cause serious accidents. If trucking companies or truck owners do not maintain their trucks fully, they can be held accountable for the accidents that result.

Self-Driving Trucks Could Improve Safety Considerably

Proponents of self-driving trucks urge that these vehicles will tremendously decrease accident rates by eliminating the cause of some 90 percent of accidents—human error. The argument is compelling. Self-driving trucks, with perfected technology, would always drive at or below the speed limit, maintain a safe following distance, focus on the road, and never get tired. These trucks would likely have an additional feature that would sense when brakes, tires, or other components need servicing. In early models, it is likely a human driver would be there to correct any issues and take over the in the event of an emergency. Eventually, however, the robotic technology would likely be all that is needed.

Product Defect Cases May Increase

It appears that self-driving trucks are the perfect answer to the tremendous problem of truck accidents. However, one can also imagine a situation where this ideal vehicle goes awry. A robotic truck could malfunction, suddenly coming to a stop in the middle of the highway. Sensors could malfunction, causing the truck to veer off the roadway and potentially into another vehicle. These are just some of the dangerous possibilities.

While self-driving trucks eliminate the human error element to driving, they could potentially increase rates of defective product related accidents. Future personal injury cases may be lodged more often against the makers of self-driving vehicles that harbor defects. With sufficient testing and regulation of the industry, hopefully, overall accident rates remain low, but defective products have always existed in each industry. It is unknown whether self-driving trucks would increase or decrease product liability claims within the industry.

Stay Safe Around Big Rigs

It is important that you take steps to protect yourself when driving around tractor trailers, whether they are self-driving or not. Insurance companies offer a few tips for sharing the road with trucks:

  • Pass with care: If you choose to pass a truck, do so extremely carefully. These are massive vehicles that will require extra room to navigate around. Make sure you can see that front of the rig in your rearview mirror before returning to the lane.
  • Watch for turns: Truck drivers take wide turns, and you should assume they cannot see you when navigating a turn. Give the truck enough room to safely move around you.
  • Provide enough stopping distance: Due to their size, trucks need up to twice as long to stop as other vehicles. Keep this in mind when traveling near a truck and allow sufficient room for the truck to stop if necessary.
  • Know the "no zones": There are several areas surrounding the truck in which a driver cannot see. These no zones, also known as blind spots, include the areas in the front and back of the truck, as well as most of the right hand side and some of the left. As a general rule of thumb, if you cannot see the driver, the driver cannot see you.

What to Do If You Have Been Injured in a Truck Accident

If you have been injured in a truck accident, it is imperative that you obtain the medical assistance you need. These crashes involve immense force and can result in serious injuries. Most truck accident victims will need emergency medical assistance. If you are physically able, you can attempt to gather some evidence at the scene of the accident. This could include photographing the truck, your car, any skid marks or other physical evidence, and your injuries. You can also ask witnesses for their contact information. As soon as you are able, schedule a consultation with a truck accident attorney. Many accident attorneys will even come to you if you have been injured in the crash. Your truck accident attorney will assist you in evaluating the accident, and can help with meeting all deadlines for filing a claim, handling the insurance company, and more. With the help of your attorney, you should be eligible to receive compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and more from the at fault person or company responsible for your injuries.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case!

If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, the Atlanta Truck Accident Lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, are here to help. For over 30 years, our firm has represented accident victims across Georgia, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.
No matter where you are located, our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Truck Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.