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Technology is impacting almost every industry and is certain to make a big impact if not disrupt the trucking industry. Trucking companies and professional truck drivers are subject to regulations under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to protect both the drivers and the motoring public.
Some of the regulations that truck drivers and trucking companies must follow include such things as:
- Hours of service – or the number of hours a truck driver can safely work.
- Adverse weather operation – when a big truck must be slowed down or pulled off the road due to adverse conditions.
- Truck driver qualifications – or rules to become a professional driver.
Each of these areas are likely to be impacted with the coming of a self-driving 18 wheelers.
There are several companies that are helping the US Department of Transportation research appropriate regulations for autonomous trucking. One of those organizations is the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
The main cause of an 18 wheeler wreck is driver error. Using technology to limit driver error whether it is digital safety compliance, automatic braking or sensors for blind spots, there is no doubt that technology can help prevent accidents from occurring.
Additionally, the concept of caravanning multiple big rigs with one driver in the lead vehicle would serve to reduce substantially overhead costs to the trucking company as it is estimated that the driver’s wages are one third of the overhead of an operation of a big truck.
Many companies from Google, Amazon, Intel and others are testing ways to use technology to efficiently deliver people and goods. Uber has been very disruptive to the taxicab industry by building a better mousetrap which is easily utilized by the public. The concept for Lift and Uber could easily be applied to the trucking industry to further reduce costs of booking freight.
Companies have already tested driverless semi-trucks in the United States and with the ongoing public and private testing of autonomous vehicles, the technology will be utilized sooner rather than later.
How the DOT chooses to regulate self-driving trucks to protect the motoring public remains to be seen. It is encouraging that testing has already been undertaken by the DOT and they have recently created an advisory committee on automation in transportation.