Self-Driving Truck Technology

Self-driving trucks operate a lot like 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.

It’s important to keep in mind that, for now, many self-driving trucks will have a driver behind the wheel who is responsible for monitoring the progress of the truck and intervening if trouble arises. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of driving automation:

  • 0: No Automation – A human performs all driving tasks
  • 1: Driver Assistance – The vehicle has one automated system (e.g. cruise control)
  • 2: Partial Automation – The vehicle can steer and accelerate under human supervision
  • 3: Conditional Automation – The vehicle performs most driving tasks, but a person still needs to be behind the wheel
  • 4: High Automation – Under certain circumstances, the vehicle performs all driving tasks, but a person can still intervene
  • 5: Full Automation – The vehicle performs all driving tasks in all conditions, with no human interaction or attention required

Most self-driving trucks today are either level 2 or level 3, so human involvement and attention is required for safety. However, many companies are developing level 4 and level 5 vehicles, making it likely that completely driverless trucks will be on the highways before 2030.

Compared to passenger cars, large trucks may be better self-driving vehicles because their size allows for the mounting of sensors higher off the ground, offering an improved field of view.

Trucks need to be able to see and sense conditions much further in advance than passenger vehicles. Because of their weight,they need additional time to stop to avoid serious accidents, and they’re often traveling sixty miles an hour or faster on our nation’s highways. Cameras in leading autonomous trucks can see up to 1,000 yards ahead to scan for traffic and hazards on the road.

Because 95 percent of commercial truck routes involve driving on interstate and freeways, their autonomous systems are quickly becoming viable for longer trucking routes.. 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 Do Self-Driving Truck Routes Work?

While the logistics of automated trucking continue to evolve, many trucking companies are leaning into a “hub-to-hub” model to maximize safety and efficiency.

In this model, a fully loaded truck will drive autonomously from one hub (for example, Dallas) to another (for example, Houston). Once they arrive at their hub, these trucks will park and wait for a human truck driver to take them to their final, local destination.

Generally, technology for self-driving trucks is advancing faster than state legislation — however, at least two dozen states (including Arkansas) allow for driverless operations. Independent trucking companies must register their technology in multiple states and comply with the various rules of each county and municipality.

Legislators and advocates (both those in favor of and against self-driving trucks) are paying close attention to developments in the safety and viability of autonomous trucking, and our team at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton expects the legal landscape to continue to shift alongside advancements in technology.

Why Self-Driving Trucks Have Accidents

Self-driving trucks bring several benefits to America’s highways: for example, the ability to travel during the least congested hours of the night and a reduction in accidents caused by driver fatigue. However, autonomous trucking technology is far from perfect. Here are the main causes of self-driving truck crashes.

Software Malfunction
Most often, autonomous trucking accidents are the result of software malfunction. When the software fails to recognize a hazardous situation, it cannot take appropriate action, which 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 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

Risks of Self-Driving Trucks

Despite their cutting-edge technology , 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.

Let’s review two recent examples of collisions to better understand the dynamics of a self-driving truck crash.

Waymo Self-Driving Truck Crash | May 5, 2022

As Waymo’s self-driving truck hauled a trailer northbound on I-45 toward Dallas, Texas, another truck entered the lane right in front of it, pushing Waymo’s truck off the highway and into a guardrail on the side of the road.

Though there was a driver behind the wheel of Waymo’s vehicle, they didn’t intervene as the truck made its way off the road. The driver was taken to the hospital with moderate injuries.

Waymo wasn’t found to be at fault for the accident, but the incident did highlight how autonomous vehicles have trouble navigating errors from other drivers. At the end of the day, self-driving truck crashes will always be a possibility, because the nature of driving is so unpredictable.

TuSimple Self-Driving Truck Accident | April 6, 2022

Unlike Waymo, TuSimple was found to be at fault for a crash that occurred on the I-10 in Tucson, Arizona.

While traveling at a high speed on I-10, a semi-trailer truck operated by TuSimple suddenly veered left, cutting through a lane of traffic and slamming into the concrete highway divider. Fortunately, no one was injured in the collision, but it did provide an example of how advanced autonomous driving technology can still make serious mistakes.

In this instance, the truck executed a left turn because of a 2.5-minute old command in its autonomous driving system — a command that should have been wiped from the system long before. Initially, TuSimple blamed the crash on driver error (for failing to reboot the system properly), but eventually acknowledged that faulty technology played a part. Their driving system shouldn’t have followed an old command, and safeguards should have been in place to prevent sharp turns at high speeds.

TuSimple grounded its fleet and swiftly made software fixes. Still, it’s crucial that Arkansas drivers be aware that self-driving technology is imperfect and remain alert and focused when driving next to big trucks on Arkansas’ highways.

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.But as the technology evolves and more and more driverless trucks hit the streets, accidents involving self-driving trucks will inevitably increase. 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, and we’re committed to navigating these changes with prudence and care.

Contact Our Arkansas Truck Accident Lawyers

Did you or someone you love suffer an injury in a truck accident in Arkansas?

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

Fill out a free contact request form, which only takes a minute, or simply dial (800) 434-4800 and tell us your story. Call us today!

Tell us how we can help.

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