Self-driving trucks, which are also called autonomous trucks, are touted to be the future of cargo transport. Autonomous “big rigs” are equipped with technologies such as camera systems, radar, depth sensors, speed monitoring, and autopilot, all to remove the need for human driving.
As self-driving trucks have become more common on Ohio roads and roads across the country, so have accidents involving autonomous trucks. In fact, there have been several injuries and fatalities since this technology was first put into use in 2017.
Are There Driverless Trucks on the Road Now?
If you live in Ohio, you may have heard that a stretch of I-70 will be developed into a “Truck Automation Corridor” specifically for these autonomous rigs. Elsewhere in the USA, smart vehicles are also gaining ground in commercial transport: 55 percent of small businesses now believe they’ll have an automated fleet in the next two decades.
Despite this, many motorists are wary about sharing the road with automated trucks. Some are concerned that there are real accident risks around these trucks. This is a concern that has seemingly been proven by several serious crashes involving autonomous vehicles.
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Are Self Driving Trucks Safer?
Safety and efficiency are among the benefits plugged by advocates of self-driving trucks. Unlike human drivers, automated machines don’t need rest and can easily function during off-peak hours. This is a significant point because human factors are currently some of the biggest contributors to truck wrecks, accounting for more than 90 percent of vehicle collisions.
Trucker fatigue happens when a truck driver spends long shifts on the road and ends up being drowsy at the wheel. There’s also the persistent problem of distracted driving. Other human issues include intoxicated driving, driver inexperience, and poor decision-making.
Currently, autonomous trucks aren’t fully driverless. Autonomous trucks have varying degrees of automation, and their self-driving features could be turned off to allow a human driver to take over. At this time, drivers are still required to be present in the cab. However, the point of deploying these trucks is to let their self-driving systems eliminate human error.
Can Self-Driving Trucks Reduce or Eliminate Accidents?
If driverless technologies remove human errors, does this translate to fewer truck accidents? Some estimates say automated tech could reduce the number of crashes by 80 percent. And when an AV does get in a situation where a crash is inevitable, the vehicle could regulate its speed to help lower the severity of the collision.
However, a more recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that autonomous vehicles “could struggle” to prevent two-thirds of crashes, especially if these AVs are programmed to prioritize riders’ preferences over traffic safety. For instance, if an AV is programmed to prioritize high speeds, it could be just as dangerous as a reckless human driver.
The programming of autonomous trucks could be a major discussion point among truck manufacturers, trucking companies, and transportation regulators. AV developers say they design these vehicles to never break the law. At the same time, trucking companies will want their units to be highly efficient. You should always drive defensively around self-driving carriers.
Injury and Fatality Cases Involving Self-Driving Trucks
Though improved safety is said to be a benefit from truck automation, multiple accidents over the years have cast doubts on autonomous trucks. Here are some examples:
Autonomous Uber Crash Leads to AV Suspension In March 2018, Uber had to temporarily suspend its AV operations, including its self-driving delivery trucks, after one of its AVs struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.
This is believed to be the first public highway fatality involving a self-driven vehicle. There was a human driver in the AV, but she was watching a TV show on her phone when the accident occurred.
Google Waymo Van Crashes into a Human-Driven Car In May 2018, during an AV test in Arizona, a Waymo van collided with a sedan that was swerving to avoid another car. Waymo is a subsidiary of Google that develops autonomous vehicle technologies.
The Waymo van in this accident had a driver in it who sustained minor injuries. Police first said that the van was in self-driving mode when the crash occurred, but Waymo refuted this by saying the van was being driven on manual at the time.
Automated Shuttle Crashes on its First Day of Operation In November 2017, a Las Vegas autonomous shuttle was on its first hour of being test-run in public when it was in a collision with a semi-truck. The truck was backing down an alley in front of the shuttle, but the shuttle kept moving because it was programmed to stop only when it was 9.8 feet away from an obstacle.
Realizing that the truck driver wasn’t stopping either, the shuttle attendant pushed the Emergency Stop button, but it was not enough to prevent the minor crash. Investigators concluded that while the trucker was largely at fault, the collision was also partly due to the shuttle’s enclosed manual controller design, which was not easy for the attendant to access.
Driverless Truck Causes Pileup In May 2017, a furniture carrier rolled down a sloping road in New York and caused a multi-vehicle collision. The driver was not in the truck at the time, claiming he had put the vehicle in park mode. At least three people had minor injuries.
These are only a few of many accidents involving autonomous passenger cars. Some commuters fear that if self-driving sedans could crash, self-driving trucks could be even more prone to accidents because they are bigger and more difficult to maneuver.
Causes of automated vehicle accidents commonly have something to do with the technology, such as sensors that fail to detect surrounding obstacles or brake systems that fail to deploy. AV crashes could also be caused by the same factors in regular car accidents. Driver inattention and recklessness are some examples.
AV developers remind riders of these vehicles that a human driver still has to pay attention to the road even when the vehicle is on autopilot mode.
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Who’s Liable When a Self-Driving Truck Causes a Crash?
Traditionally, victims of a truck wreck may look into the potential liability of the truck driver and the trucking company. Under the legal doctrine of “vicarious liability” or respondeat superior, a freight company may be held liable for an accident that their employee-driver has caused.
But more questions arise if the truck involved was self-driving: Could the backup human driver still be found negligent? Would the trucking company still be held liable? How about the software developer or the hardware manufacturer?
Laws and insurance policies are still trying to catch up to this new landscape. There is currently no federal regulation specifically for this area of tort law, which means there are no national guidelines on how automated technology can affect truck injury claims.
In Ohio, a government program called DriveOhio was launched to accommodate and regulate the testing of smart mobility, but there are gray areas in terms of insurance and accident liability.
What Legal Protection Exists for Those Involved in Self-Driving Truck Crashes?
Fortunately, our existing laws still fully apply to autonomous vehicles. With the help of a skilled truck accident lawyer, you may find avenues for compensation in our current legal system, even if the technology involved is entirely new. For instance, a human driver of an automated truck could still be found liable if they were absent from the cab or inattentive during the travel.
A trucking company could also be held accountable for failing to uphold the standard duty of care if they allowed their truck to travel without a qualified human driver or failed to conduct the necessary systems maintenance. The truck’s software or hardware maker may also be found responsible for defective systems, under our existing product liability rules.
The key to finding your best legal recourse is strategically navigating our accident and transport laws. Your lawyer should help you find the most viable path for you to get properly compensated after your self-driving truck accident.
Consulting With a Truck Accident Lawyer
With over three decades of experience in Ohio truck crash cases, the Fitch Law Firm knows the personal injury and insurance laws like the back of our hand. We stay updated on recent developments concerning motor vehicle regulations, and can competently handle cases involving smart vehicles.
We are knowledgeable in the legalities that apply to self-driving trucks including those of:
If you’ve been injured in a self-driving truck wreck in Ohio or you were injured in any other kind of motor vehicle accident, call our 24/7 toll-free hotline for a free consultation.