Daimler made headlines over a year ago when it began testing a self-driving big rig in Nevada. More recently, a startup that includes a group of former Google, Apple, and Tesla employees has publicized its efforts to develop “a $30,000 kit that can make any truck built since 2013 autonomous.” When autonomous big rigs come into fruition, will traffic safety improve?
Most experts believe that the number of big rig accidents will drop as autonomous systems are implemented. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for example, has found that autonomous technology could prevent 28% of large truck crashes. And that’s just using the following four features, all of which are currently available:
• lane departure warning;
• electronic stability control;
• forward collision warning; and
• side view assist.
These features can help truckers and those around them stay safe. Lane departure warnings, for example, can play a vital role in fighting the potentially devastating effects of sleep apnea in truck drivers. Side view assist can notify truck drivers if a vehicle is approaching in one of the truck’s many blind spots. A study in Accident Analysis and Prevention determined that side view assist was “potentially applicable to 39,000 crashes in the United States each year, including 2,000 serious and moderate injury crashes and 79 fatal crashes.”.
There is more question, however, about the severity of crashes when they do occur, particularly after trucks are fully autonomous. At least one commentator has speculated that more serious accidents will occur, such that “catastrophic claims are likely to increase.”
Now is the time for the public to call on legislators to mandate that life-saving technologies be included in all new commercial vehicles.