Will Autonomous Trucks Increase or Eliminate Collisions?

With the aid of computer programmers and machine learning specialists, manufacturers have been working toward introducing a fully autonomous vehicle for years. With the continuous improvements to active safety systems and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), more and more functions are automated within the vehicle with each production iteration.

Since 18-wheelers spend most of their time traveling along large, straight highways and they often follow a rigid predetermined path, vehicle manufacturers devote significant focus toward developing freight delivery automation. Unfortunately, many trucking companies become enamored with the potential cost savings and sacrifice safety to protect their bottom line. Numerous factors highlight these safety concerns, including:

  • Unresolved programming limitations: From thought experiments such as The Trolley Problem to real-world decision-making challenges, many computer experts argue that machine learning will take years or decades to achieve the subtle nuances of the types of out-of-the-box reactions a human operator can make.
  • The loss of driver intuition: Following from the previous point, many people suggest that computer programming might never reach the level of problem solving that an experienced driver has attained. While computer monitoring systems might achieve technical proficiency, they will never overcome the need for intuition during problem solving. Truck drivers have the experience necessary to recognize danger and create unexpected solutions – solutions that might not be available to artificial intelligence.
  • Encouraging distracted driving: Some companies opt for a hybrid model of driving allowing the safety systems to control the vehicle while a driver is still in the cab. An unfortunate side effect of vehicle ADAS is that drivers feel safe enough to perform other tasks while behind the wheel rather than focusing on the road to take control in a dangerous situation. Drivers might eat, drink, read or answer email when they should be monitoring the truck’s progress and hazards along the road.

While autonomous vehicles signal an amazing advance in technology, they might come at the cost of traffic safety. When a trucking company decides to favor their bottom line over the potential safety of everyone who shares the road with huge 18-wheelers, it can lead to disaster. Leveraging profits against safety can lead to devastating collisions and catastrophic injuries.