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Autonomous Trucking

Imagine driving down the expressway and pulling alongside an eighteen-wheeler. You look up at the driver’s seat what do you see? Maybe the stereotypical trucker with his John Deere hat and flannel shirt? What if you looked up and saw no one sitting there? What will a world of autonomous trucks look like and how will the police enforce violations on a truck with no driver?

In 2016, Anheuser-Busch partnered with Otto, a subsidiary of Uber, to transport 50,000 cans of beer from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, Colorado with a computer responsible for driving on the interstate. The test was successful and trucks driving themselves has become a full-fledged reality. Regardless of whether this is a good idea or not, the question the ITEA asks is “how will these trucks handle enforcement efforts?”

Forget the common traffic violations humans commit but a computer can correct, such as speeding or not using a turn signal. How will a truck handle a restricted route if there is no human to obey the signs? Some GPS units are designed for the trucking industry, but even those are not totally accurate all the time. Local roads have restrictions, and these GPS systems may not be aware of this constantly changing landscape.

How will a truck know it is being stopped by the police or needs to move over to the right to let an emergency vehicle pass? What happens when a truck is stopped for a weight violation? Will the computer system recognize the need to go to a scale and be weighed?

What about motor carrier inspection? Will these trucks be able to understand what a trooper may require at roadside? Who is the citation issued to? How will an out-of-service order work?

As with all things new, questions will be asked for every possible scenario. It would be impossible to eliminate the human element from trucking operations in order to ensure safety and compliance with traffic laws. Someone must be responsible for the decisions made in regards to safely loading the truck and ensuring it is routed safely to its destination.

Currently, some carriers pass through weigh stations and tolls utilizing a “prepass” system. This reduces congestion and saves time, fuel and money for the industry. As autonomous trucks become commonplace, these systems will make the movement of goods over the interstates even more efficient. If the technology is able to load a truck at point A and send it on its way to point B in a safe and efficient manner, this could be a win for everyone.

Technology is advancing and has shown to be a benefit to everyday life. However, all aspects of the advancement must be taken into account, including the enforcement of traffic laws. The ITEA is excited about this future, but it watching carefully too see what this future brings.

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