WILL SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS BE SAFER, SOONER?

WILL SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS BE SAFER, SOONER?
With all the talk about self-driving cars lately, it is surprising not to hear more about self-driving tractor-trailers. Given that trucking collisions cause massive harm across Illinois Expressways every day, most people would welcome self-driving trucks if we knew that they would make our highways safer or at least decrease the number of accidents. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the number of traffic crash fatalities has surpassed each of the totals for the past 5 years. In fact, Illinois has eclipsed 1,000 traffic deaths even before the start of the final two weeks of the year. Of these fatalities, 247 have taken place in Cook County while each Winnebago, St. Clair, Will, Kane, DuPage, and Lake Counties suffered nearly 40 deaths in crashes.

In late October, a tractor-trailer safely carrying 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer, made a shipment in Colorado along Interstate 25 with no driver at the wheel. Anheuser-Busch has claimed it as the world’s first commercial delivery by a self-driving truck. Not surprisingly, the truck had a police escort for 120 miles while the driver stayed in the sleeper cab. Anheuser-Busch believes that self-driving trucks would save them $50 million a year in fuel costs and a better delivery schedule in the United States alone. However, the owner of the automated truck, a company named Otto, was recently purchased by Uber. Uber’s vision in 10 to 20 years is for human drivers to allow trucks to operate autonomously on major roadways and then for the drivers to operate the trucks where it is more difficult to drive. Uber already has self-driving cars in use in Pittsburgh.
At first glance, a truck driving along a highway with no visible driver looks as though it will crash into other vehicles or drive off the road, but many companies in Silicon Valley believe that autonomous vehicles will be safer than human operated vehicles because they simply will not make mistakes. The vision for the future of self-driving vehicles may prevent crashes since it optimizes the use of human driving skills as well as those of a computer. As it stands, a typical new vehicle contains 100,000,000 lines of computer code in it. The situation where we now stand is comparable to the 1930’s when elevators became automated at the push of a button. Still, many concerns remain that a truck could be hacked and steered to crash.
However, our apprehension about autonomous vehicles may be misplaced. Trucks are logging the most miles on our highways where the road surfaces are generally smooth and where the lanes are well marked. Unlike our communities where there are countless pedestrians and bicycles, the highway seems to have less hazards. Even with autonomous tractor-trailers on our highways, we should not expect that self-driving means that the trucks will be driverless. It is most likely that we will see a driver behind the wheel for decades in case something goes wrong. If the use of self-driving trucks can make a driver’s job less stressful and less tiring, it is almost certain that the number of truck accidents will be reduced.