By: Allan M. Siegel
Driverless trucks may hit the road even sooner than driverless cars. The
new technology, pioneered by San Francisco-based company OTTO, among other
innovators, is paving the way for the future of trucking – 80,000
pound behemoths piloted by a computer instead of a human.
Currently, shipping a load of cargo across the country costs around $4,500,
with 75 percent of that cost representing labor. However, financial gains
are not the only thing driving this technology forward. Hours of service
regulations created by the FMCSA restrict drivers to no more than 11 hours
of driving per day with an 8-hour break. A driverless truck, on the other
hand, will be able to drive nearly 24 hours per day, which means that
they could double the output of the trucking industry at only a quarter
of the cost.
Advocates also point out that driverless trucks will also be far better
for fuel efficiency. Because truck drivers are currently paid by the mile,
they tend to drive much faster than the optimal cruising speed of 45 mph.
Not only is this good for the environment, but cutting fuel and transportation
costs is expected to lower the prices of goods and thus increase the standard
of living for many people.
Most importantly, however, are the expected safety benefits of eliminating
human error from the equation. Every year, thousands of people (truck
drivers included) are injured and killed in preventable accidents. Many
of these accidents are caused by recklessness, including distracted driving,
drunk and drugged driving, speeding, and driving while fatigued.
Additionally, the reality is that truck driving is a grueling job that
many young people are not interested in. This has led to nationwide driver
shortages and a host of related problems, including service log falsifications
concealing a truck driver’s violations of hours of service regulations.
With fewer drivers delivering more cargo on tighter deadlines, the opportunities
for ignoring safety regulations are plentiful and tempting.
Despite the anticipated gains, the automation of the trucking industry
will deliver a devastating blow to the American workforce. In addition
to the loss of truck driving jobs, motels, rest stops, highway diners,
and gas stations will likely also struggle to survive without their trucking
customers. It also remains to be seen how effective and safe self-driving
trucks will be if and when they are implemented on public roads shared
by other drivers.
OTTO is already testing its automation kit on U.S. highways. The technology
is here – at this point, the rest is merely regulatory. Good or
bad, we can expect to see automated trucks on the roads sometime in the
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