Driverless Trucking & Its Impact on Car Accidents

self driving truck accidentsDozens of companies are currently testing and developing self-driving trucks. These trucks are expected to hit the road as early as 2021. TuSimple, for example, is currently deploying tractor-trailers that will drive themselves from pickup to delivery without anyone on board. Currently, their fleet of 40 autonomous trucks has been hauling goods between depots throughout Arizona and Texas.

If that sounds frightening to you — you’re not alone. Self-driving trucks may be the future, but there is something terrifying about an 80,000-pound vehicle cruising down the road at 70 mph without anyone on board.

While proponents of self-driving and autonomous commercial trucks say that this will make the roads safer, not everyone agrees. What happens when a truck accident occurs? Who is to blame, and how will accident victims obtain the compensation they need?


Self-Driving Truck Technology

Self-driving trucks operate somewhat similarly to self-driving cars. A variety of sensors, like cameras, lidars, and radars, send data to computers onboard the vehicle. These computers control the car using a combination of simulation, training, and programming. Large trucks may be better self-driving vehicles because their large size allows for the mounting of sensors higher off the ground, giving it an improved field of view.

Trucks need to be able to see and sense conditions much further in advance. That is because they need additional time to stop to avoid serious accidents. Cameras must look at least 1,000 meters ahead at all times to scan for traffic, as well as hazards on the road.

Because 95 percent of commercial truck routes involve driving on interstate and freeways, their autonomous systems are a bit easier. Self-driving cars must account for urban settings and be able to stop suddenly for pedestrians or distracted drivers that run red lights. Commercial driving vehicles on the open highway often do not need to account for such unexpected events.

How will these self-driving truck routes work?
In the future, self-driving trucks will drive from hub to hub with goods. Once they arrive at their hub, these trucks will park and wait for a human truck driver to take them to their final destination locally.

Unfortunately, slow-moving federal government rules and regulations have not generated meaningful outcomes for automated trucks. Also, many states are creating laws regarding the use of self-driving trucks in their communities. These laws and regulations could significantly impact the future of self-driving trucks — or at least slow down their progress. Independent trucking companies must register their technology in multiple states and comply with the various rules of each county and municipality.

Why Self-Driving Trucks Have Accidents

There are many reasons why self-driving truck accidents can occur.

Software Malfunction
Most often, these accidents are the result of software malfunction. When the software fails to recognize a hazardous situation, it cannot take appropriate action and can result in deadly accidents. One such accident occurred when the self-driving truck could not identify a pedestrian in a crosswalk as a hazard.

Driver Error
For now, many self-driving trucks still have drivers who are supposed to take control of the truck when there is a problem or hazard. However, if these drivers are distracted, they may fail to take control in time.

Locational Hazards
When self-driving trucks operate on the open freeway, they are usually driving at a high rate of speed. This speed can make it difficult for human operators to take control and react appropriately when a hazardous situation arises, such as ice on the road, a suddenly stopped car, or even a deer crossing the road.

Improper Maintenance or Loading
Self-driving trucks can still crash due to negligent maintenance and care. When a trucking company cuts corners or fails to maintain its fleet, serious accidents can occur. Failures can include:

  • Brake failure
  • Tire blowouts
  • Broken headlights or taillights
  • Rearguard failure
  • Transmission failure
  • Steering component issues
  • Suspension failure
  • Improperly loaded cargo

Types of Self-Driving Truck Accidents

Self-driving trucks can get into many types of accidents. These types of accidents include, but are not limited to:

  • Head-on collisions. When a self-driving truck fails to recognize another vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian approaching, it may not make the appropriate maneuvers to avoid the accident. These types of accidents are almost always catastrophic and often fatal.
  • Rear-end accidents. When another vehicle pulls out suddenly in front of a self-driving truck, it may have to come to a stop quickly. Accidents can also occur when the road conditions or traffic conditions change suddenly, like right after an accident. If the truck does not have enough time to stop, a serious rear-end accident can result.
  • Jackknife accidents. Poor weather conditions, improperly loaded cargo and tire blowouts can all lead to serious jackknife accidents. This occurs when a self-driving truck must stop suddenly, but the trailer swings out at a 90-degree angle when it does. This often results in the self-driving truck overturning. A jackknife accident can cause serious injury and damage to other vehicles and passengers in the area.
  • Underride accidents. When a self-driving truck makes a sudden stop, this can make it difficult for following drivers to stop in time. If the vehicle driving behind the truck cannot stop, they may hit the back of the truck. The rearguard is supposed to prevent these deadly accidents. However, they are not always installed correctly, and sometimes they can fail.

Risks of Self-Driving Trucks

Due to their nature, self-driving trucks can be dangerous. “Drivers” of self-driving trucks need to remain alert and focused on the road at all times. That way, when a hazardous condition arises, they can take the wheel and maneuver the truck safely. Unfortunately, as the truck drives smoothly on the open road, many drivers get bored and look for other ways to keep themselves entertained. Using cellphones, napping, or even watching movies may be ways that truck drivers keep themselves engaged while the truck drives. When an emergency occurs, they are then unable to steer the truck out of harm’s way.

Another risk of self-driving trucks is that their software may be a prime target for hackers or domestic terrorists. If the software system is hacked, the hackers can take control of the truck or even cause accidents themselves.

Who is Liable in a Self-Driving Truck Crash?

When a self-driving truck gets into an accident with another vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist, multiple parties can share the blame.

  • Truck driver. As in most truck accidents, the truck driver may be to blame, especially if they were supposed to navigate the vehicle around hazardous conditions. If they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, distracted, or fatigued at the time of the crash, they might be held accountable.
  • Trucking company. The self-driving trucking company or truck owner may also be to blame. If they failed to perform necessary maintenance or if their software failed, they can be held accountable for the accidents their trucks caused.
  • Shipping company. In some cases, the shipping company may be to blame if they improperly loaded the cargo or failed to secure the freight properly.
  • Manufacturers. Defective trucking parts or software can make the trucking manufacturer or part manufacturer liable for the accident. Product defects are taken seriously because they can jeopardize consumers everywhere.

Self-driving trucks are new, and the chain of liability is not always clear after an accident. These accidents need to be investigated thoroughly to ensure that all responsible parties are held accountable.

Self-driving truck accidents are rare — for now. But as the technology grows, so will the number of accidents. At Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, our truck accident attorneys stay abreast of all local and state trucking laws and regulations. We realize that the trucking industry is changing and that new technology will further this change.

Contact Our Arkansas and Tennessee Truck Accident Lawyers

Did you or someone you love suffer an injury in a truck accident in Arkansas or Tennessee? If so, you need a law firm on your side with experience handling these complex cases. With eight offices in Arkansas and Tennessee – Little Rock, Little Rock-Corporate Hill, Springdale, Conway, Hot Springs, Bryant, Jacksonville, and Memphis—our truck accident lawyers can tackle cases from across both states.

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