Truck accidents involving large trucks result in more than 4,000 deaths a year and some 116,000 injuries, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Florida accounts for 5.3 percent of the total fatal large truck crashes nationally (only California and Texas had more), and large truck collisions account for 5.2 percent of Florida’s total deadly motor vehicle accidents.
Now, a recent report by The New York Times explores how those figures may soon be significantly reduced – with the prospect of self-driving trucks. The report cites a CB Insights log detailing the fact that companies and investors have put more than $1 billion into self-driving technologies for trucks, which was 10 times what was being invested in just three years ago. Further, auto manufacturer Tesla is slated soon to unveil an electric truck that has a number of self-driving abilities. Meanwhile, a California start-up announced it’s been testing self-driving truck technology in partnership with a truck leasing firm and a large appliance company.
Most in the industry agree self-driving trucks will be reality, but there is disagreement as to exactly when we can expect it. However, there is strong speculation it will happen a lot faster than fully self-driving passenger cars.
The reason is because while passenger cars routinely must navigate urban streets that are often chaotic, most large trucks spend most of the time operating on a straight trajectory across sparse highway landscapes. Additionally, while self-driving cars have to contend with fickle consumers, companies interested in logistics are mostly unemotional about allowing upgrades if it makes financial sense. There is also speculation self-driving trucks will be on the road long before self-driving taxis.
Self-driving trucks could mean big changes for the $700 billion-a-year industry, which affects virtually all consumer products, natural resources and development. The sheer size of the injury creates an incentive for efficiency, which is why automation makes sense. In fact, a number of companies are racing to develop the technology and get these advanced vehicles on the road so that they can start turning higher profits.
Already, many large trucks have a number of self-driving features. For example, the 7,000 trucks owned by US Xpress are all equipped with collision avoidance systems and autonomous breaking. Automated lane-steering features are expected to be incorporated into the fleet next year.
Still, beyond whatever technical hurdles that may exist, there may be regulatory ones as well. And we can’t discount the shock and perhaps wariness some other motorists might feel seeing a truck operating down the road with no driver. It’s inevitable too that one of these trucks will at some point be involved in a collision, and if fault is found with the self-driving truck, that raises a host of legal liability and regulatory issues to grapple with. That could slow the process down too.
There is no doubt, however, that the financial ripples of expanding self-driving technology is going to affect everything from insurance premiums to road design. One downside, of course, is that career truck drivers may be out of a job. Some in the tech industry say this could be resolved by having the trucks operate autonomously on long highways, but still require a driver to navigate stops and the end of the trip details.
Truck accidents result in billions of dollars of economic impact each year, not to mention the devastating toll on individuals and families. These are complex personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, and require an attorney with extensive experience.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Self-Driving Trucks May Be Closer Than They Appear, Nov. 13, 2017, By Conor Dougherty, The New York Times
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