We’ve all heard about robots and machines being created for various tasks, including autonomous vehicles. What about semi-trucks? A California based company, TuSimple, has been doing just that. Currently they have 12 companies in Arizona that hire them to haul loads using these autonomous semi-trucks. They are planning an expansion to run from Arizona to Texas along I-10. Current planning sets the timeline to 2020. Another company, Embark, has already been doing that by transporting refrigerators from El Paso to Palm Springs, California along I-10.
These companies are not the only ones creating these driverless trucks. Other big players include Volvo, Daimler, and Tesla. So, have you noticed these trucks driving down the road? How would you feel if you looked over and saw an 18-wheeler next to you at 75 mph with no human in the driver seat? Initially, it would be fair to say that most of us would feel a slight uncomfortable feeling. The human side of us that is simply unfamiliar with an autonomous vehicle. Before we jump to any opinions about how we feel about this, lets look at some statistics.
Why Autonomous Semi-Trucks Could be a Good Thing
Reason No. 1:
Autonomous Semi-Trucks do not get tired, distracted, intoxicated, or over-worked. In the US alone, over 4000 people perish every year due to trucking accidents. The majority of these are caused by some form of human error. Essentially, Autonomous Semi-Trucks could prove to be much safer for the long-haul loads.
Reason No. 2:
Driver Shortage. Currently the trucking industry is operating with a shortage of around 50,000 drivers. Recent experts have stated that number could increase to around 175,000 by 2024, as current drivers reach retirement. Younger generations simply aren’t as willing to make the commitment to be away from home as much as is required to be an over-the-road truck driver.
Reason No. 3:
Cost Benefit. A report from McKinsey & Company has shown that a fully autonomous trucking market could cut operating costs by 45 percent, saving carrier companies between $85 billion and $125 billion annually. Additionally, 18-Wheelers are responsible for the transportation of around 70 percent of all goods shipped around the country. Autonomous semi-trucks are capable of running around the clock making shipping methods faster. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has set limits on the hours a human truck driver can operate before taking a break. These are designed to keep fatigued drivers off the roads for their own safety and the safety of others. It has been established that drivers can operate for 14 hours once work of any kind has begun. This includes lunch breaks or any other off-duty time. After the 14-hour driving window, an operator must take at least 10 hours of off-duty time.
What about the truckers that will be out of work because of Autonomous Semi-Trucks?
Consideration No. 1:
Current laws are not equipped to allow completely human free vehicles. Current liability laws do not allow one to sue a freight company that makes trucks, only the drivers, employers of the drivers, or the company that hired the trucking company. These laws would need to change.
Consideration No. 2:
Technology isn’t quite there yet. The autonomous trucks in operation now still have a human component to them. They do still have truck drivers in the cabin to ensure safety at all times.
The average truck driver is 55 years old. It could be possible that the timing of retirement and new technology and laws could make way for an easy transition from human drivers to autonomous semi-trucks in the years to come. As with all things, Time will tell.
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