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What Is at Stake with Autonomous Trucks?

undefinedWill autonomous trucks put truck drivers out of work? Many in the trucking industry believe that autonomous will put some truck drivers on the sideline, especially at the larger, often high-paying fleets.

Where We Are now with Autonomous Trucks

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), we are about halfway between total driver control and trucking autonomy. This graphic produced by SAE shows which steps are included at each level and are intended to clarify the levels:

Level 0 started in the ‘90s with “blind-spot warnings” that alerted the driver to possible dangers, but all the truck could do was activate a warning light, beep, or vibrate to warn the driver.

With most trucks, we are now in level three moving toward level four. Even with the ability for some trucks to steer, shift, accelerate, and brake on their own, drivers are still positioned in the trucks to take over when necessary. Accordingly, “…floor pedals, steering wheels and real, human drivers are still present in these automated vehicles, just in case.”

Testing is underway on some level four vehicles by several manufacturers. Level five will only occur when trucks drive themselves in all weather and road conditions.  

Roadblocks to Autonomy

According to many officials within the trucking industry, autonomous trucks will be available for routes sometime around 2024 or 25 but will not fill all cargo transport requirements. Many of these same officials believe young people entering the industry will still be able to drive until they are ready to retire.

The use of autonomous trucks will be restricted to routes with staging areas, favorable road and weather conditions throughout the course, legislative approval, and other factors.

There are currently eleven states that will not allow autonomous trucks at any level, including most of  California. Testing is only taking place in specific states that allow it. Even in states where it's allowed to test or operate autonomous trucks, restrictions apply to routes and weather conditions.

These trucks have difficulty “seeing” the white lines, so states with heavy rains or snow are not being used in the testing. Therefore, even when fully-autonomous trucks are put to use, drivers will still be required to deliver trucks to the start point of highways designed for autonomous trucks, finish the delivery within cities, or where weather conditions are unfavorable.   

How long will it take to convince those in authority these self-driving trucks are safe? How many miles are enough to say the trucks are safe without a “safety driver” on-board? 

Most of us had no idea about safety drivers before a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian while a safety driver was “watching a video on her cell phone. Undoubtedly, safety drivers in a 40-ton truck will be more serious about their duties.  

Automated Trucks & the Repercussions 

Will innovations include “autonomous truck” lanes on highways? Will parking lots be built next to autonomous truck routes where drivers can pick up or drop off trucks for inter-city driving? 

Will autonomous trucks lead to higher death tolls from self-driving trucks on the highway? Many “experts” believe autonomous trucks will be safer overall than trucks with drivers. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology doesn’t get tired or distracted. Currently, drivers and safety drivers are still regulated, just like other drivers. All FMCSA hours-of-service (HOS) apply. 

All trucks must have a “trained commercial driver” in the cab behind the wheel. One would assume that drivers must possess a commercial driver’s license as well.

One thing autonomous truck drivers won’t have to worry about is traffic tickets. They won’t get speeding tickets, tickets for overweight trucks, red-light tickets, unsafe lane changes, following too closely, and other trucking violations. You shouldn’t worry about these either. CDL holders should always consult a traffic attorney when they get ticketed.  

CDL Traffic Ticket Attorneys Who Practice in Roseville, CA 

In the Roseville, CA, area, when you get a traffic ticket, you can call Bigger & Harman, (661) 349-9300. Se habla Español (661) 349-9755.

Although our office is located in Bakersfield, we assist commercial drivers with tickets across CA. Convictions for an Unsafe lane change or following too closely can lead to a 60-day driver disqualification after a second conviction. Don’t risk your livelihood by paying the fine on the first. Give us a call; it’s free.

Email: attorney@biggerharmanlaw.com

References:

The 2019-2021 CA Commercial Driver Handbook.pdf

The Forbes articleShould Government Promote Autonomous Trucks?

The truckinginfo.com articleInside the Cab of an Autonomous Truck

The trucker.com articleA peek into the future: Autonomous trucks are coming, but drivers will still be needed

The SAE.org/news articleSAE Standards News: J3016 automated-driving graphic update