The focus has been on self-driving cards, but a recent Senate hearing examined the benefits of that technology for the trucking industry.
When it comes to technology, it seems there’s always a “shiny new object” that we can focus on. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, however, we’ve been hearing and talking about this technology for quite some time; yet the possibility of roads filled with driverless cars and trucks is still off in the distance. There has been significant legislation for autonomous cars, but not so for the trucking industry. This was the topic of discussion for a recent Senate hearing on the issue, according to a Truckinginfo.com article.
The Senate hearings are being held to determine legislation that would give the Department of Transportation (DOT) the ability to set performance standards for all autonomous vehicles. At this point, the House has passed legislation on this issue; however, their legislation excludes trucks over 10,000 lbs. It is not yet known if the Senate version will or will not include commercial trucks.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota made clear how vital it is to include trucks in the legislative discussions and ultimate decisions, stating “Including trucks in the conversation about automated vehicles is important as we seek to improve safety; it also puts our economy on a level playing field as other countries around the world deploy automated freight trucks.”
And safety is an important issue since no one disputes the damage that an 80,000 lb. tractor trailer can inflict when involved in an accident. Deborah Hersman, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board noted that “The top four reasons for crashes are caused by human behavior or choices: alcohol, speed, fatigue and distraction.” She then made clear that this human error factor gives ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) systems and automated vehicles “the potential to reduce preventable crashes and deaths in an unprecedented way.” That is why she feels so strongly that the legislation pending in the Senate should apply to both cars and trucks.
The president of the American Trucking Association, Chris Spear also made clear that trucking needs be involved as autonomous vehicle legislation is under discussion. Since trucks are such an essential part of the supply chain and since there are a number of issues that will affect both cars and trucks, including cybersecurity and infrastructure, those issues “should be answered for commercial and passenger vehicles at the same time.”
Although truly driverless vehicles won’t be the norm for quite a while, one shouldn’t think that it won’t happen. It should be noted that when it comes to vehicle technology, we’ve already accepted as normal technology like GPS, Bluetooth, collision avoidance systems (including automatic braking), and lane assist. Truly driverless cars may not be here for quite a while; however, a certain degree of autonomy (lane assist, collision avoidance) already exists.