Trucking Trend: Self-Driving Trucks

Self-driving trucks sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but they may be a reality sooner than you think.

In May 2015, Daimler Trucks North America revealed the first self-driving commercial truck, the Freightliner Inspiration. Currently this truck is only one of two being tested in the U.S. At the truck’s reveal, it passed over the Hoover Dam using its autonomous driving technology.

Self-driving cars and trucks use advanced radar and camera technology to drive on their own. The Freightliner Inspiration also uses lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, and steering and braking monitoring systems to operate safely. A self-driving vehicle may sound scary, but all self-driving trucks must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

This breakthrough technology is so new that there are very few regulations in place currently. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a policy saying it won’t interfere with development and testing of autonomous vehicle technologies, including cars and trucks, but they will help guide the states on how to draft regulations. Some of the guides suggested by the DOT include recommendations for regulating where autonomous vehicles should be tested. They suggest testing on highways or in low-speed environments.


Even with federal guides, state regulations are vague. So far the only states that have enacted autonomous vehicle legislation are California, Nevada, Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, as well as Washington D.C. Each state has its own provisions. As autonomous vehicles become more common, regulations will change. There are several different items legislators should look at when drafting new regulations.

One of the biggest problems with autonomous vehicles is their inability to recognize objects on the road and make decisions. Optic detection technologies are installed in the self-driving truck, but it isn’t refined enough to recognize what type of vehicle is on the road in front of it. For example, in a situation where a crash is unavoidable, and the truck has an option to hit both an SUV and a motorcycle or swerve and only hit one, what does it do? If a person was driving the truck, he or she has the ability to assess the situation and make a decision, but how does a self-driving truck decide? This is where regulations come in. Who is responsible for deciding the outcome of an unfortunate crash, legislators or software developers?
Before self-driving trucks become a common sight on the road, there are many different driving situations that need to be assessed and programmed into the vehicle.

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