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Will Self-Driving Big Rigs Reduce Deadly Trucking Accidents?

It is a widely known fact that crashes involving large trucks (a.k.a. 18-wheelers, big rigs, tractor-trailers) often result in serious injuries and deaths. It is also relatively common for long-haul truck drivers to spend significant hours behind the wheel during each work shift. In fact, in response to a rise in accidents blamed on driver fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented hours-of-service rules in 2011. These rules govern the amount of hours that truck drivers can be behind the wheel in a single shift. Although efforts have reduced trucking accidents, approximately 4,000 fatal trucking accidents still occur annually. How can we reduce these  deadly crashes? One startup based in San Francisco thinks it has the answer. Contact a Boston Trucking Accident Lawyer Today.

Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who helped design Google’s driverless cars, left the technology giant to form a startup with two other Google alums and a robotics expert. His company, Otto, aims to power big-rigs with software, cameras, sensors, and lasers that will allow trucks to effectively navigate U.S. highways autonomously while their human drivers rest or complete other tasks. Levandowski believes that driverless big rigs will have an immensely positive effect on highway safety.

Driverless Cars are Already on the Roads

Although this might seem a scary idea to many, it is not a particularly new idea. Thanks to Google, driverless cars are already navigating city streets in Texas, California, Arizona, and Washington. Otto’s vision is to equip robot truckers with the ability to control highway travel. The more complicated task of weaving in and out of city streets would still be left to humans. “Our goal is to make trucks drive as humanly as possible, but with the reliability of machines,” said Levandowski.

Before you start checking every passing 18-wheeler for a robot driver, it might be a good idea to consider that autonomous big rigs may be decades away. Although driverless car technology has made great progress in a relatively short amount of time, the process is expected to move much slower with large trucks. According to Steven Shladover, the program manager for mobility at the University of California’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology, convincing government regulators to trust robot drivers to safely steer high-speed trucks on our highways is what’s going to take some time. “I don’t want to be on that highway when there is nobody there to take over a truck with 80,000 pounds of cargo and I don’t think I know anyone else who would want to be,” said Shladover. “The consequences of any kind of failure in any component would be too severe.”

First Driverless Truck Cruises Down Nevada’s Highways

But Levandowski is optimistic. He has logged more than a decade of  working on automated driving, starting with a self-driving motorcycle.  And Otto already has a workforce of 40 employees with self-driving car experience. Many have come from Google, Tesla Motors, and Apple. At only four months of age, the ambitious startup has already equipped three large trucks with driverless technology. In fact, one truck has already made its maiden voyage, cruising down public highways in Nevada earlier this month.

So, is Shladover right? Are driverless big rigs still decades away? Levandowski doesn’t seem to think so. And what if he’s right? Will robot truck drivers dramatically reduce large trucking accidents? Will they be the answer to the growing shortage of truck drivers? Maybe only time will tell. But Levandowski certainly seems to think self-driving big rigs are the answer.

In Levandowski’s opinion, “It’s really silly to have a person steering a truck for eight hours just to keep it between two lines on the highway.”

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Trucking Accident Lawyers

If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a large truck, the experienced legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have an impressive track record of obtaining compensation for our clients. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.