Will Bellingham be safer when autonomous semi-trucks come through town? (Part 1)

Like it or not, self driving vehicles are coming to Bellingham. This includes self-driving trucks. Does the thought of a semi traveling 70 mph with no one behind the wheel scare you? The answer seems an obvious and resounding “yes”. However, if you consider that 94% of car accidents are by human error, does that relieve you? I suppose that depends on who is doing the programming and engineering! Regardless, the technology is making waves, bringing hope for the car accidents it can prevent, fears of the accidents it may cause, and worry about the implications of making machines so, well… human.

 

In Part I, here are some benefits of self-driving trucks.

 

No human error: Autonomous trucks removes the human error factor in driving. With no driver, there is no distraction, no road rage, no speeding, no intoxication. Those are the top factors in the majority of Bellingham car accidents, or anywhere else in the world. Autonomous trucks will be programmed more conservatively than human-driven vehicles. For example, they won’t need to speed or make unsafe lane changes in order to make their mileage quotas. They won’t need to sleep, or try to forgo the sleep they don’t need. Their actions will be more predictable, with speed and a safe following distance maintained.

 

Technology advanced: Sensors will make it safer for trucks to travel at night, as they will reduce the problems with nighttime driving visibility. They’ll be able to detect things that a human driver could not. I think about this when I travel along I-5 and see debris on the road, such as a couch, wondering how lucky we are when a driver can miss something like that. Self driving trucks will sense those objects and handle them accordingly. This is not so much in theory anymore, but practice, as these trucks are already on the roads doing these extraordinary things. Also, they will have top-notch navigation systems that minimize the distance of a route, utilizing real-time traffic and accident updates, and mapping out the fastest possible route.

 

Accident resolution: Determining blame will be much simpler since all it will take is a diagnostic of the self-driving system’s memory to check what actions were performed and when. The truck will not have to have its training evaluated, it won’t need to be tested for drugs or alcohol, and it will can not possibly lie. Studies show that the vast majority of truck crashes are also due to human error.

 

More cargo space: The cab of a self-driving truck will need only house a computer system that never lies down for a nap. This opens up the possibility to engineer more safety features into the truck cab, as they are currently incredibly dangerous on impact.

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