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First road-tested driverless truck is legally allowed to hit the road in Nevada

Written by Steve Gursten Posted June 1st, 2015

Learn about the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, which may change the whole trucking industry by reducing fatigued driving

Freightliner driverless truck

I recently discussed driverless trucks as a possible reason the trucking industry isn’t attracting young drivers, despite a considerable truck driver shortage.

Here’s another reason why young drivers may be reluctant to become truck drivers: The job may not be around for very long. Think about it. A prospective trucker only may have a decade or two before these trucking jobs become obsolete due to autonomous commercial trucks.

The economies of scale are considerable, as I discussed in an article in Bridge Magazine. Imagine commercial motor vehicles that can run 24 hours, seven days a week, barring maintenance and loading. This would be a world without human beings behind the wheel, which also means no driver shortage of experienced, qualified truck drivers. And, as this is an attorney blog that focuses on trucking industry safety issues, such a world also means no human beings doing the things cause so much carnage and injury when trucks crash.

No more truck drivers falling asleep. No more texting behind the wheel. No more drivers with dangerous medical conditions who are putting everyone around them at risk.

No more concerns about hours of service. No more concerns about drivers talking on cell phones.

No more truck accidents.

That day may be here sooner than we think.

In fact, there is already a road-tested big rig truck that’s legally allowed to drive in the state of Nevada.

Early this month, Freightliner (a company owned by Daimler) unveiled the “Inspiration Truck” — a partially autonomous big rig commercial motor vehicle that’s touted for its ability to prevent truck crashes by mitigating driver truck driver fatigue and human stress.

Daimler says it has done more than 10,000 miles of testing on the truck. And now it’s street-legal, as it’s been granted one of Nevada’s “Autonomous Vehicle” license plates (the first for a commercial truck) by Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, according to a recent article on the Verge, “This is the first road-legal big rig that can drive itself.”

As reported by the Verge:

” The Inspiration Truck is considered “level 3” on NHTSA’s automation scale. That’s the second-highest level of automation — the same that Google’s self-driving cars currently operate on. It means that the vehicle is advanced enough to enable the driver to cede full control in certain traffic or environmental conditions. The driver can interrupt and regain control, but the vehicle should allow a “comfortable transition time.”

As our attorneys have written, most truck accidents are caused by completely preventable human error, according to a study from Volvo: European Accident Research and Safety Report 2013. This means most of the people we help are injured in wrecks that are entirely preventable.

Driverless trucks can solve the problem of fatigued driving, something that plagues truckers who have to pull long shifts — especially those who are pressured by crooked management to drive over federally regulated hours in order to get loads to their destinations quicker, and therefore, earn more profits for the trucking company.

Driverless trucks don’t replace the truck driver. They just ease some of the physical burden.

Think of a world with no hours of service that limit how long trucks can be on the road because there are no longer human beings driving them that need to rest. Think of a world where fleets can essentially run around the clock as long as they are being properly maintained.

As I also discussed with Bridge Magazine, my prediction is that because of the huge economic benefits involved, autonomous trucks will likely be adopted first within the commercial transportation industry, before we see autonomous passenger cars.

As the Freightliner “Inspiration Truck” continues to be tested, officials and the auto industry are further researching safety issues, such as how it drives in different weather conditions as well as inclement weather.

Daimler and Freightliner chose Nevada as the venue for the unveiling because the state was the first in the nation to put regulations in place that allow the testing of autonomous vehicles. In Michigan, where I primarily practice law, driverless cars are being tested on city streets and highways, starting with Ann Arbor.

But who’s liable if a driverless or autonomous commercial truck causes a crash?

As touched on in the Verve article, the issue of liability in the event a driverless truck causes a crash has not yet been defined.

I’ve written about this issue in depth. I believe the answer to that question is going to depend in large part on what the state legislatures around the nation do. It also raises the prospect for the first time on federal legislation that would pre-empt the states to create a consistent and uniform body of laws.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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