Self-Driving Semi-Trucks and the Future of Highway Crashes

In November 2017, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk introduced a fully electric Class 8 semi-truck that can go “500 miles Self Driving Semi Trucks Highway Crashesbetween charges, hauling 80,000 pounds along the way.”1 It also comes equipped with Enhanced Autopilot, the second generation of Tesla’s semiautonomous technology for highway driving. This standard Tesla feature “allows vehicles to stay within a driving lane, match speed to traffic conditions, and even change lanes without a driver’s help.”2

The Upside to Self-Driving Semi-Trucks: Reducing Accidents from Human Error

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 3,986 people died in large truck crashes in 2016.3 Sixty-six percent of these deaths were “occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles,” while 16 percent were “pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.”3 Truck occupants only counted for 17 percent of those who died.

Truck crashes are often fatal for other drivers because trucks “can weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars and are taller with a greater ground clearance, which can result in smaller vehicles underriding trucks in crashes.”3 Some of these crashes were caused by a mistake the truck driver or fleet owner had made, such as driving more than 11 hours in one stretch or not checking their side mirrors before changing lanes.

If semi-trucks were self-driving, some of these accidents would have never happened if the trucks were equipped with semiautonomous technology. It would prevent trucks from merging into lanes occupied by other vehicles and speeding in slower traffic conditions.

The Downside: Potential Accidents from Technological Error

In May 2016, a Tesla Model S going fast on “Autopilot” collided with a semi-truck trailer on a Florida highway, which resulted in Tesla occupant’s death.4 According to reports, “neither the vehicle’s sensor-linked controls nor the driver made any attempt to stop.”4 Tesla told investigators that a “technical failure” of the braking system played a role, not the Autopilot feature.5

Even if Tesla’s braking system failed, this accident questions the reliability of self-driving cars. If Tesla’s technology in its passenger car had failed, it could also fail in Tesla’s new self-driving semi-truck, which will be more deadly for everyone on the highway.

The Solution: Semiautonomous Trucks with Drivers

Because of this potential hazard, “truck driving is unlikely to be completely autonomous in the near future.”2 For example, Peloton’s semi-autonomous platoon system “would still require a driver at the wheel of the lead truck, while even those trucks following behind would need drivers on board, although they would be free to focus their attention on other work.”2 Therefore, these semiautonomous features will make trucks drive safer on the highway, as long as the driver doesn’t rely too much on them.

Seriously Injured in a Truck Accident? We Can Help

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a trucking accident, our experienced attorneys at Shannon Law Group can help you get the compensation you deserve. Please fill out our contact form or call us at (312) 578-9501, and we will be in touch with you shortly. A free no-obligation consultation is available as well.

 

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