In Part 1 of this two-part series, we looked at yet another area that will be impacted by driverless vehicles: urban freight and the trucking industry. With the industry headed for a crisis – a shortage of drivers coming and increased demand for goods delivered by truck – driverless truck technology can potentially be the solution.
But, perhaps the greatest benefit of autonomous-vehicle technology will be in the area of safety, which remains one of the greatest challenges in the movement of goods by trucks. Freight transportation is involved in approximately 13 percent of all highway fatalities and, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA); roughly 94 percent of crashes are due in part to human error.
But 80 percent of crashes could be avoided or mitigated with the autonomous vehicle-technology that is already being deployed for human-driven vehicles, such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping and blind-spot assistance, and adaptive cruise control. In December, NHTSA proposed requiring that light-duty vehicles be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology by 2023.
Worth noting: although these technologies are coming, it will not happen overnight. It will be a process that won’t crush the industry, but rather, will supplement it and actually help extend the careers of many drivers – particularly older drivers.
Self-driving trucks, like the one that delivered that load of beer in Colorado back in October 2016, will allow drivers on long-haul routes to rest or sleep, reducing accidents stemming from driver fatigue. Robotic trucks will be able to drive on open roads, with a human driver taking over navigation to the warehouse, acting as the “last miler operator.” There, robots will be able to unload the trailer and place the boxes into smaller vehicles that will make their way directly to individual homes and stores.
The idea of a heavily loaded 18-wheeler cruising the highway with no one at the wheel may seem unsettling now, but it won’t be that long before it becomes a common sight, and probably cause a number of people to “double-take.” These technologies will reduce the cost of moving goods across the country while benefiting both efficiency and safety. The technology is developing at a rapid and accelerating pace. We need to not only understand it but to embrace it.