Driverless Trucks OK’d By DOT, Public Remains Skeptical



The Trump administration is allowing tractor-trailers to become driverless, setting off the corporate race to develop the first successfully autonomous trucks. According to U.S. News, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that it would be adapting its definitions of “commercial truck driver” to include an automated system.

The DOT’s automated truck statement was a part of a 70-page document outlining the department’s interpretation of existing federal regulations. Experts say that the document is proof that the federal government won’t be intervening on the development of driverless trucks.

“It’s pretty significant,” said Richard Bishop, an automated vehicles industry analyst. “They’re saying, as far as federal law is concerned, you can do it now.”

The DOT’s new guidelines are set to increase the competition between companies who have been preparing driverless trucks but have been unable to test them due to regulations.

With regulations loosened, automated industry analysts predict that driverless tractor-trailers without the need for a safety driver may be possible within two years.

Automated truck developers including TuSimple and Embark have already developed automated trucks that have been made freight deliveries overseen by a safety driver.

Other companies have also successfully tested “platooning.” Platooning is when a truck with a human driver leads up to five automated driverless vehicles.

Companies expect automated trucks to deliver big savings. Although 500,000 reefer trailers are currently in operation on American roads, the trucking company is still suffering from low employment rates. Automated trucks will fill that void.

Automated trucks may also save money for trucking companies because they would slash 40% of the long-haul freight cost. Platooning would also reduce 10% to 15% of fuel costs.

Despite the excitement of automated industry analysts, other analysts predict that a fully driverless trucking economy won’t be possible until the mid-2040s.

The DOT regulations were only part of the reason for why it’s taken longer for driverless trucks to be tested. The strong skepticism from the driving public is another reason.

Public skepticism of automated vehicles has increased in the last year after a handful of fatal car accidents. Because regular accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles are more deadly than the average collision, it’s understandable to be uncertain about the safety of automated tractor-trailers on the road.

Americans roads aren’t always clear and easy to drive for the average trucker, either. Although horizontal directional drilling is currently the most efficient and safest method for highway bores, other types of road construction and weather conditions could also make a big impact on how effective automated trucks are on the road.

That said, although the Department of Transportation has made its hands-off approach toward regulating driverless trucks known, it’s clear that automated trucks and other vehicles still have a long way to go in terms of testing. As recently as this summer, two-thirds of Americans said in a poll that they were skeptical of autonomous vehicles.

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