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The Challenges of Making a Safe Self-Driving Truck

Trucking Accidents

Cross-country and local trucking drives industry in this country. Flying is too expensive, and trains don’t start and stop exactly where and when you need them to. So, nearly every bite of food we take, every car we drive, every TV we watch, and every computer we use came to us at some point on a large commercial truck.

The big trucks that carry all of our “stuff” are inhibited by only one thing: humans. This is a serious limitation because federal and state law restricts how many hours truck drivers can drive in a 24-hour period, along with a plethora of other trucking rules and regulations. Also, large commercial trucks on the highways can be dangerous, causing thousands of truck accidents and personal injuries every year. One solution that the trucking industry is considering is to remove the human element and create self-driving trucks. Unfortunately, without drivers, there is a question as to whether self-driving trucks will be safe enough on the nation’s highways, especially considering they weigh in at about 80,000 lbs.

If you’ve been involved in an accident with any kind of truck, contact an experienced Florida truck accident lawyer at Searcy Denney for help recovering all of the financial compensation you’re entitled to.

What Exactly Are the Challenges of Developing Self-Driving Trucks?

As you can imagine, there are a number of technical and practical issues involved in developing a self-driving truck. Some of the most common include:

Driving Requires Many Complicated Social Interactions

This is still hard for robots. Driving is a complex social process that often involves intricate interactions with other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Humans instinctively rely on common sense and deeply-ingrained intelligence that robots simply do not have. What’s the fun of giving a robot the finger? This simple gesture also serves an important communication function: “You’re not driving well.”

Much of the research and testing has involved “training” the trucks’ software to recognize various difficult situations that come up on the roads. For example, claims have been made that self-driving vehicles can now recognize cyclists and interpret their hand signals, such as right or left turns. Think of all the various driving situations that involve subtle communications like e navigating four-way intersections, dealing with simultaneous arrivals at a turn, or a construction worker waving cars around an accident scene. Easy for us, hard for a robot. Common thinking is that self-driving cars will ultimately need to be adept at a minimum of four key tasks:

  1. Understanding the environment around them
  2. Understanding why the people are behaving the way they are
  3. Deciding how to respond 
  4. Communicating with other people

Bad Weather

Compounding the challenges faced by self-driving truck developers is that weather still poses a major challenge. As with our own eyes, car sensors don’t work as well in fog, rain or snow. This technology is almost certainly going to come out incrementally, starting with places where the weather is good and the roads are easy to drive, and moving on to more challenging locations.

Knowledge of Safety

Before self-driving cars can take to the roads, lawmakers are going to have to approve them for use. They will surely want to know: How safe are these trucks? The tricky part is, we probably won’t know until after they are allowed on the roadways; sort of a catch-22. We can’t regulate without knowing the dangers, we can’t know the dangers until they’re allowed on the roadways, and we can’t let them onto the roadways until laws are put into place.


Stated simply, how do you make sure these cars can’t be hacked? As vehicles become smarter and more connected, there are more ways to get into them and disrupt what they’re doing. This may have exceptionally serious consequences. Fortunately, engineers are not starting from scratch here; cybersecurity is well along and is considered the easiest problem to fix.

Social Change

Clearly, social change, or more accurately, a social revolution, will be needed in a society where people feel more comfortable driving themselves rather than having robots controlling large aspects of the national infrastructure. One serious accident with a driverless truck will shake up the country’s foundation, even though there are thousands of accidents involving large trucks with human drivers every year. 

However, there are already many aspects of travel that are controlled by computers. Cruise control on vehicles and auto-pilot systems in airplanes have become accepted as commonplace. But social change has traditionally been required with high-impact introductions of ground-breaking technology.

Legal Liability

One sidebar-type issue that trucking and insurance companies will have to sort through before self-driving trucks become common is legal liability. Who will be held responsible when an autonomous tractor-trailer is inevitably involved in an accident? With traditional truck accidents, if the driver was negligent and caused the accident, injured victims may be able to sue any number of parties, including:

  • Third-party independent contractors
  • The trucking company
  • The truck manufacturer
  • The truck driver
  • The truck owner
  • The truck maintenance company
  • If the truck is leased, whoever leased the truck from the owner
  • The shipping or loading company

But what happens when the driver is removed? Who will be held responsible? If the cause of the collision was the truck itself, would the manufacturer of the truck be responsible under product liability law? What about the company that developed the software that controls the truck? Autonomous truck litigation would instantly become even more complicated than standard truck litigation, which is already among the most complex accident litigation there is. It may take a series of new statutes by Congress, who would have no idea about how the technology involved works.

Let a Florida Truck Accident Lawyer Help You Recover Damages Caused by Truck Accidents

Truck accidents are already complicated enough, but self-driving truck accidents would increase the complexities exponentially. A Florida truck accident lawyer at Searcy Denney will consult with experts in the field to establish your claim. We work entirely on a contingency fee basis, with no risk to you. Contact us for your free consultation.

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Posted By: Bud Wilder