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Will Self-Driving Trucks Make Us All Safer?

For all the discussion and debate about the advent of driverless cars, industry experts agree that driverless trucks are more likely to hit U.S. highways first, fueled by corporate America’s interest in cutting labor costs.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Mercedes Benz introduced its “Vision Van,” a windowless delivery vehicle (except for the windshield) that uses mechanical arms and a drone to get packages to recipients’ doorsteps.

Long-haul trucking is a target for autonomous operation as well. Many driverless trucks have already been tested, and an Australian mining company uses 45 driverless trucks to transport iron ore in two separate mines.

What Is Safer?

Thus far, the trucking industry has taken a position that it will be a long time before fully autonomous tractor-trailers hit the road. Recently, commercial trucking stakeholders told a panel of officers from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that the need for a human presence in long-haul commercial vehicles was not likely to disappear even when self-driving trucks are a reality.

Bryan Spoon, a truck driver and board member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said there would always be situations when human analysis is necessary to overrule the preprogrammed decisions that would be entered into an automated truck.

Spoon provided a hypothetical example of a truck that was in a situation in which it would either have to swerve and crash into a brick wall, completely destroying itself, or stay on course and hit a group of schoolchildren. “What choice does our automated vehicle make?” he asked.

Increased Technology Is Inevitable

Technology continues to upend every industry, and trucking is no exception. What seems more likely than fully automated trucks – at least initially – is the introduction of driver assist technology that allows a driver to be in the cab monitoring a system rather than driving the truck.

The benefit with driver assist systems could be the potential for workers to work longer hours instead of the limits currently imposed by federal laws. However, extended shifts are a significant safety concern within the trucking industry already and likely would be even if operators were not always fully controlling their vehicles.

Some predict that self-driving vehicles will end trucking as a profession. Many also have said the huge decrease in accidents caused by human error will make personal injury lawyers moot – at least for motor vehicle accidents, the most common type of personal injury lawsuit. Once autonomous vehicles are on the road, it is possible that instead of suing an operator of a motor vehicle involved in an accident, the lawsuit will be against a computer programmer, a designer of algorithms or the developer of whatever mapping system the autonomous vehicle was using.

A lot remains to be determined. The lawyers at Rehm, Bennett & Moore will adapt to the changes in order to provide high-quality personal injury representation, just as they have over the past several decades. If you or someone you love is injured in a car or truck accident in Nebraska due to someone else’s negligence, we are ready to maximize the amount you recover.

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