Driverless 18-Wheelers Are Already On the Highways
People might not know it, but some trucks they see on the highway might not have drivers.
There was a report on 60 Minutes on Sunday, March 15, 202o that got a lot of public attention. The popular CBS news magazine and television program is watched by thousands. People were informed that driverless 18-wheelers are already being tested on public highways.
Humans are on the trucks that are being tested on highways now just in case computers or sensors fail. According to autonomous trucking executives, 18-wheelers will be on the road next year without any human in them because the testing will be over.
The states of California, Florida, and Nevada have already passed laws to allow driverless trucks on a limited basis for demonstration and test purposes.
How Driverless Trucks Work
Chuck Price is the chief product officer at TuSimple, an autonomous trucking firm with operations in the United States and China. He says his trucks are superior to other driverless trucks in the world because the computer can see farther than any other autonomous system.
Price claims the system can see over half a mile ahead whether it is day or night and in rainy or fair weather. He added that sensors, cameras and radar devices feed data to the artificial intelligence-driven supercomputer that controls the truck.
Maureen Fitzgerald is a truck driver with 30 years of experience and works for TuSimple. She says the system drives the truck better than she can. She says the driverless truck scans mirrors and sees what is happening 1,000 meters out. Fitzgerald says the computerized truck processes all the things that her brain could never do. Besides, the trucks without a driver can react 15 times faster than most human truckers.
Additionally, a driverless truck can do other things that human truckers cannot do. For example, they can detect drivers in automobiles and other trucks who exhibit bad road behavior faster than humans. The computer in the driverless trucks can read license plates and gather other information about their companions on the road.
Reactions From Human Truckers
As many as 300,000 truck drivers could lose their jobs once driverless trucks go on the road full time. Needless to say, those drivers are upset about this upcoming trend. The autonomous trucking firms will make billions of dollars with their driverless trucks while human truckers stand to lose the livelihoods they have grown accustomed to having.
Some of the big companies already use TuSimple trucks, including Amazon, UPS, and the United States Postal Service. Driverless trucks will cause human drivers to lose their annual salary which is currently around $45,000.
Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on freight transportation and automation, gives his opinion about driverless 18-wheelers. He is convinced that the disruption to the trucking industry will be severe.
Truckers voiced their opinion on 60 Minutes. They admit they are very wary of having driverless trucks replacing them on the road. One woman gave a very good example. She said sometimes a police officer or a road worker might give hand commands if there is an accident ahead or construction on the road. She wondered how a driverless truck is going to respond in cases like that during a road emergency.
Sam Loesche, a representative for the Teamsters believes it is a problem that other drivers don't know that the big truck following them or beside them on the highway is without a human driver. Loesche believes it is a problem that companies are secretly testing this technology next to you as you drive down the road without your knowledge.
Impact Driverless Trucks Will Have on the Public
The most obvious impact driverless trucks will have on the public is that human truckers will lose their jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states there are 1.6 million long haul drivers. The American Trucking Association estimates that there are over 8 million trucking-related jobs that will be eliminated.
Companies with regular trucks might go out of business. Truck stops will no longer be needed. That means truckstop owners, operators, and related suppliers won't have jobs. It won't be necessary for driverless trucks to have occasional pit stops.
What's Your Reaction?
What do you think about trucks without a driver following you, passing you, or being or your right side or left side on the highway? While some people might not give it a second thought, this writer cringes at the thought.
There is nothing she can do to prevent driverless 18-wheelers from sharing the road. However, there is one thing she can do to avoid sharing the highway with 80,000 pounds of steel without a human driver. She has decided to take back roads where driverless trucks are unlikely to be.