Self-driving Trucks and CDLs—What’s in the future for Tacoma truckers?
The commercial driver’s license has been and will continue to be a path to a comfortable life. Whether engaged in long-haul or local transportation, people with CDLs play a necessary and lucrative role in the economy.
This role will continue to remain strong even as the “self-driving truck” becomes common on the highways. The the advent of self-driving trucks is an opportunity, and trucking jobs in Tacoma and other parts of the country are secure. As we progress into the self-driving era, people ready to be part of that era will be able to keep on top of their profession. Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity.
Self-driving vehicles and trucking
Modern trucks and cars already contain many autonomous features which increase safety and efficiency. Cruise control is one such feature—it maintains speed and allows the driver to attend to other driving-related actions. Many trucks include automatic and lane control features. These features help reduce the risk of accidents and driver fatigue.
Roughly 90% of truck-related accidents were caused by driver error—not necessarily the truck driver’s. Reducing the number of accidents will increase the efficiency of the fleet around the country and in the Pacific northwest.
The industry also anticipates a shortage of drivers, especially long-haul drivers, in the near future. The American Trucking Associations estimate a shortage of 175,000 by 2024, and the problem may be worse. Regulations coming on-line in the next few years may accelerate the process. Trucking jobs in Tacoma, and elsewhere, should be secure in the near term.
Current status of self-driving trucks
Right now, self-driving trucks are in testing. Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration is licensed in Nevada, but Daimler stresses that CDL drivers remain in the cabs, able both to respond to situations, take control once off-highway, and attend to other tasks. The driver still will manage overtaking tasks, and will have to take over in extreme weather—which interferes with the sensors.
Daimler is working with Peloton Technology to create an effective platooning system, allowing a series of long-haul trucks to be controlled from the lead cab. The trucks would be connected with cloud technology. Convoys would still need multiple crew—perhaps interchanging lead trucks during a true long-haul trip. The drivers would also be needed to get off the highway to depots. Drivers will be needed also for local transport, even with full self-driving capability.
One area of trucking which is sure to grow is cybersecurity. Each of the sensors enabling a vehicle’s autonomy is a potential access point for hackers. Hacking committed by anyone wanting to cause mayhem is a potential disruptor of truck transportation. Bluetooth and infotainment systems are also vulnerable.
Cybersecurity will be needed at the truck and fleet level. Manufacturers, of course, will need to become more involved than currently. Vehicle monitoring services (such as OnStar for cars) can provide the feedback to central locations, and will be able to detect unusual incidents. Peloton platoons may need to have a cybersecurity specialist in the crew.
Building on GPS technology in vehicles will be crucial for cybersecurity. Vehicle sensors already detect low-tire pressure and other interior concerns. Coding to detect and provide alerts for other performance issues, including sudden unexpected acceleration or deceleration, can allow the central service or driver to bring the vehicle to a stop.
Legal issues and liability
The legal system generally acts reactively to problems arising in real life. While this reactivity provides for a more flexible system, it sometimes means that technology can outpace the law. Technology, after all, changes more rapidly.
Fixing responsibility and liability for accidents is a major part of the legal system’s function. The system looks at what happened and determines the major cause for the accident—driver error, road conditions, equipment failure—and fixes responsibility for the losses caused by the accident.
Even now, the autonomous features of vehicles can be involved in accidents. For example, a faulty cruise control, which does not stop accelerating after the vehicle reaches the set speed, might be the cause of an accident, and that can implicate both the driver (for not responding) and the manufacturer, based on products liability law.
One area in which car manufacturers will have to step up is in coding. Because sensors are made by a variety of suppliers, the coding for all the devices in a vehicle are not necessarily unified or even known by the car manufacturer. The coding will have to be more unified both for cybersecurity and liability issues.
Manufacturers and liability
Manufacturers represent that the products they sell will fulfill the purposes for which they are sold, and are safe when used properly. Thus, the sensors will have to detect nearby vehicles, cruise control should not shut off or accelerate randomly, and automatic braking systems must slow the vehicle down when conditions warrant. The out-of-control cruise control mentioned previously might impose liability for an accident on the manufacturer.
Coding in all the autonomous parts in a vehicle will not only need to be unified, but updated as bugs are located. This responsibility will most likely have to be on the manufacturer because they have the best ability to ensure safe operation. Even now, drivers do not respond to voluntary recalls, and the Internet of Things allows rapid recoding, especially for safety.
Vehicle manufacturers are sensitive to perceived unsafe aspects for their vehicles. The last thing they want is for a self-driving truck to cause a horrific accident, as that would lead to disastrous litigation and public relations nightmares.
Several states are anticipating autonomous vehicles. One way of ensuring safe use and manufacture is requiring liability insurance levels higher than for regular vehicles. Georgia, for example, recently required liability coverage of 250% over the standard vehicular coverage.
As autonomous vehicles come on the market in greater numbers, products liability and personal injury law will evolve to cover autonomous vehicles.
Semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the road, and those features will only increase. In major trucking centers, including the Pacific northwest, the kinds of jobs will evolve, but trucking jobs will always be needed.
The greater efficiency and the actual lower risk of accident of autonomous vehicles will drive the change. As the public becomes more comfortable with them, the perceived risk will fall. But there will always be room for a driver in the cab.