For people who find the thought of sharing the self-driving cars frightening, the thought of trucks with no one behind the wheel is probably terrifying. However, it looks like it's going to be a reality.
In fact, in Australia, driverless trucks are already in limited use. Caterpillar has six mining trucks that haul dirt and rocks on steep grade hills. The trucks, which are run by technicians working in a control room miles away, can run all day and night, with stops only for gas. More driverless trucks are planned based on the success of these.
While the idea of driverless commercial trucks may terrify people who may eventually have to share the road with them, it's important to remember that about 116,000 people are hurt or killed annually in commercial vehicle crashes. In most of these crashes, human error is to blame. However, in most cases, that human error involves the other driver -- not the truck driver.
The financial benefits, however, are too good for trucking companies and other companies with fleets of commercial trucks to resist. Many also like the thought of just being able to program a truck and not have to deal with drivers.
Truck drivers point out that their job is far more complex than just driving. They have to sign for pick-ups and drop-offs, make sure that cargo is loaded properly, stop for refueling and maneuver the vehicles into loading docks, just to name a few of their responsibilities. However, according to the American Trucking Associations, these driverless trucks are "close to inevitable."
It's likely that we'll be seeing these self-driving trucks in areas with little or no traffic to do jobs like hauling before we see them on public roads. There are already questions about who assumes liability if someone in a self-driving car is involved in an accident. What about a truck where no human is behind the wheel? That's something that trucking firms and other companies will need to take into consideration before unleashing these large, heavy driverless vehicles on the roads.
Source: Truckers Report, "ATA: Self-Driving Trucks Are “Close To Inevitable”," accessed Nov. 05, 2015