done by machines are as acceptable as mistakes done by human beings.?
?Martin Daum, chief executive Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA)
When an 80,000 lbs.big rig gets into an accident, which CNBC reports is happening more frequently than any time since 2009, things can get fatal real fast.
The positive implications then of ?safe? self-driving 18-wheelers in the U.S. are beyond question both for the driving public as well as for the trucking industry, which is currently enjoying a major surge in post-recession business.
The reality, the need, and the challenges
Fatal truck accidents happen nearly 11 times every single day on average, and kill nearly 4,000 people each year, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The official value of a human life as used by the Department of Transportation is $9.2 million, so if autonomous trucks can save 4,000 lives per year, that’s $36.8 million saved from these deadly crashes, plus millions more in medical and work loss costs.
A toxic mix of overly tired drivers, companies that don’t screen for problem drivers and government that is slow to force new safety technologies on to American roads is the main culprit.
Nevada test drive
As the first ?autonomous truck? license plate was attached to a Daimler-owned Freightliner big rig, the potential for a safer trucking future rolled across the Hoover Dam and off onto the highways of Nevada.
Wolfgang Bernhard, chief executive of Daimler?s bus and truck division told the Financial Times (FT) that the new truck will still have a driver, who will take over operations in circumstances that the autonomous driving system deems too complicated to handle safely on its own. These are likely to include moves into and out of distribution centers and navigating busy urban streets.
Bernhard neglected to add to loading bays and busy streets, the aspect of bad weather, which the 18-wheeler?s driver Christian Urban experienced right away.
FT?s Robert Wright said as the vehicle drove down a Las Vegas Interstate, powerful desert crosswinds battered the truck, growing even worse as two other trucks passed and the Freightliner?s Highway Pilot lane-keeping system failed to keep the vehicle on the intended path.
The system recognized its limits, flashed a red alarm on the dashboard and urged the driver to take control, which he did.
Such winds are common in Nevada. A rogue wind storm in April roared across flat Nevada at 70 mph causing a 17-vehicle pileup resulting in one fatality and 16 injuries.
Other adverse winds are blowing in from government and the trucking industry as Congress moves to eliminate through defunding tough new regulations on the maximum workweek of long-haul drivers.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21 to 9 in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to strip funding to enforce the new rules. Collins said the new rules have had “unintended consequences that are not in best interest of carriers, shippers and the public.”
Bernhard recognizes that Daimler technology has yet to match the flexibility of humans. As such, the company is uninterested in pursuing self-driving technology like that of Google.
But, he furthered, during a press event for the Nevada road test that 90 percent of crashes caused by driver distraction and drowsiness can be prevented by autonomous technology.
Forbes recently reported that autonomous trucks, in addition to the obvious safety potential, can significantly boost the bottom line for business. According to Daimler, trucks transported about 70 percent of all freight in the U.S. in 2012, and by 2050 the global trucking industry is expected to triple.
Increasing as well will be congestion, pollution…and accidents.