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Driverless Trucks are Soon to Be a Reality

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.

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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 near future.

Hurt in a truck accident? Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is ready to investigate your case and fight for the compensation you deserve. Contact our firm to schedule a free consultation with a Washington, DC personal injury lawyer. We accept cases in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.