All across the country’s 2.2 million miles of paved roads, trucks of all sizes transport our essential goods in record time. There’s little doubt that these colossal vehicles have a massive impact on our carbon emissions; despite the fact that only 10 diesel engine trucks are sold per every 100 trucks sold nationwide, combined emissions from light-duty vehicles and heavy-duty trucks represented 82% of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. And while we haven’t quite figured out a widespread solution for making trucks more environmentally sound yet, innovators are determined to at least make these vehicles less reliant on human intervention.
That’s right: self-driving trucks are coming. In fact, they’re currently being tested in Louisiana, California, Texas, and Virginia. Two different tech companies are looking to see whether the autonomous trucks they’ve created will actually be able to crossover into the mainstream. Kodiak Robotics will be testing its self-driving trucks on trips between Dallas and Houston, while Torc Robotics will put its autonomous trucks to the test on highways in the southwest portion of Old Dominion. Kodiak will continue to have a “safety driver” in the truck’s cab to oversee operations and prevent accidents, though the eventual plan is for these trucks to be monitored remotely via camera technology. Torc’s parent company, Daimler Trucks, announced that all automated runs of its vehicles would require help from both an engineer and a safety driver. The safety drivers, explained the company, would receive special training in automated systems and vehicle dynamics. And while there are roughly 214 million licensed drivers in the U.S., the safety drivers for these autonomous trucks would also need to hold valid commercial driver’s licenses.
Self-driving trucks are certainly appealing in theory. Not only are they equipped with self-learning technology, but the fact that autonomous trucks would be able to transport shipments all day, every day — with no breaks required or operating limits in place — would be a huge boon for the industry. And despite the fact that many Americans have safety concerns surrounding autonomous vehicles, self-driving trucks would be forced to adhere to all traffic laws and wouldn’t be prone to drowsy or distracted driving. In the abstract, at least, it could actually promote greater safety and efficiency. It’s no surprise that funding for new truck technology and development (which includes autonomous trucks) was predicted to reach $1 billion in 2017, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Still, not everyone is in favor of these vehicles. Many truck drivers are concerned that truck crashes could end up becoming more prevalent, particularly since the technology is still so new. What’s more, the worry of job loss has prompted some drivers to meet with state representatives to work on drafting a bill that would oppose autonomous trucks. After all, if millions of jobs in the trucking industry simply disappear, this could have drastic consequences on an economy that depends on consumers purchasing the very goods being transported by those vehicles.
Considering that the average driver puts 13,500 miles on their vehicle every year — and truckers drive significantly more than the typical motorist — it’s obvious that this technology will have huge consequences on our daily lives. And while there are undoubtedly some major benefits of autonomous vehicles, whether the public will actually trust the technology (and whether it should be trusted at all) remains to be seen.