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Self-Driving Trucks: Miracle or Menace?

By Dallas Personal Injury Attorney on January 20, 2021

A driverless truck may sound like far-flung technology from a science fiction book, but this new stage in transportation is already here. In fact, the very first test of a self-driving truck took place in 2016 by Uber.

Since then, more and more companies have decided to try their hand at making a road-ready self-driving truck. Most of these inventions aren’t ready for the real road yet, but that hasn’t stopped these companies from testing them on our Texas highways, putting our people at extreme risk.

The Dangers of Self-Driving Trucks

As the market for fully automated trucks grows, so do the dangers that these vehicles present. While the companies making these driverless trucks have promised to do so safely, the truth is this kind of technology still needs years of tests and vetting before it is close to being ready for the open road. But waiting for proper research and development hurts a company’s chances of making a profit, so it is often sped up. This kind of rush, to be the first one to get a self-driving commercial vehicle onto the road, creates several dangers.

A Lack of Regulation

The trucking industry is heavily regulated. Each state has its own weight and size laws, as well as laws on how trucking companies operate. On the federal level, there are rules on how long a trucker can drive before being required to take a break, and how long those breaks must be.

All of these rules are in place for a very good reason. Trucks are much larger than your average passenger vehicle, which presents unique challenges for truck drivers, as well as unique dangers for others on the road. A truck accident could easily take the lives of multiple people.

However, that level of regulation has yet to carry over into the driverless truck arena. At this moment, the autonomous vehicle industry is very young, making the drawbacks of these vehicles unclear. There is simply not enough information to make commonsense laws around how this new industry must operate.

Sadly, big corporations are known for exploiting limited regulations, and many of the companies making these trucks are probably cutting corners in an effort to make as much profit as quickly as possible. All this does is put the average person at risk.

Malfunctioning Computers

A driverless truck relies on a computer system to steer. Many of the companies making these systems claim that they will make trucks safer, as a computer can’t get tired, distracted, or drunk. However, computers can easily malfunction. After all, auto defects are not an unusual occurrence.

One loose wire, one sloppy piece of code, or one big bump in the road could cause the computer to stop working altogether. Or, even worse, it could cause the computer to steer the truck in the wrong direction. Either way, this puts the humans at high risk of being involved in a high-speed truck collision.

Unprepared for the Roads

Driving can be unpredictable. Roads take sudden and sharp curves; there are blind turns that require extreme caution; some streets suddenly become so narrow that a truck couldn’t possibly fit. All of these scenarios need to be programmed into the driverless truck’s computer system. Otherwise, the computer will not know how to react. For example, semi-trucks need to take turns slowly, otherwise they risk rolling over. If a computer has not been properly programmed to account for a specific curve, then the vehicle could take it too fast, and flip.

Even on roads that are straight and flat, which are relatively easy for a truck driver to handle, harsh weather could suddenly develop. A seasoned driver will know how to deal with an onset of rain or snow or high winds, but if a computer has not been programmed with the right reaction, then it may not change its speed or driving pattern at all to compensate, and that could quickly lead to an accident.

Slower Reaction Times

The human brain is a marvel. It can take in information and make a decision on how to react in a matter of milliseconds. This is especially useful in driving. A truck driver could see a potential hazard hundreds of feet away, and slow down or turn in time to avoid a collision. While a computer is also capable of taking in information and making the appropriate decision to avoid an accident, current technology is not able to do that fast enough.

Many of the computer systems currently being tested for these driverless trucks use long-distance sensors that are able to pick up changes in the environment, whether that be a turn, stopped traffic, or an object in the road. However, these sensors are only so powerful, and so only sense objects that are relatively close to the truck. Trucks are incredibly hard to stop. Their size and weight mean that they need an longer period of time to slow down. If the computer is unable to pick up on an object or car in time, then the truck will be unable to slow down into a complete stop.

For example, what if a car suddenly merged into the lane in front of a truck? A truck driver would be able to see the car’s blinker, anticipate it merging, and begin to slow down before the car is even in the same lane. A computer, on the other hand, may not be able to pick up on the car until it is already directly in front of the truck, not leaving enough time to slow down and potentially causing an underride accident.

When You Need Help

In a perfect world, these dangerous trucks would not be on our roads for another decade at least. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. In fact, you may have already shared a road with a driverless truck. You may have even been involved in an accident with one. If you have found yourself the victim of a driverless truck accident, then you need the help of an experienced Dallas truck accident attorney. You deserve compensation, and we want to help you get it. To speak with a member of our legal team, call our firm, The Lenahan Law Firm, at (214) 295-1008. Our attorneys are ready to help you.

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