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How Safe Are Self-Driving Tractor-Trailers?

A futuristic tractor-trailer speeding down the highway with a city in the background.

We've heard all the hype about self-driving cars. But what about self-driving tractor-trailers? Recent developments show that these autonomous big rigs may soon become a reality on Texas roads, which could increase the likelihood of truck accidents that result in serious injuries.

Aurora Innovation Inc. plans to begin hauling freight with 20 driverless trucks on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston later this year. The company will deploy these trucks to optimize logistics, reduce delivery times, and enhance efficiency. Aurora and its competitors expect to deploy thousands of self-driving trucks on America’s public freeways within three to four years.

How reliable are self-driving tractor-trailers?

On a three-lane test track along the Monongahela River, an 18-wheel tractor-trailer maneuvered around a curve with no one on board. The truck’s sensors quickly identified a trash can blocking one lane and a tire in another. In less than a second, it signaled, moved into the unobstructed lane, and continued past the obstacles. Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation Inc. owns this self-driving semi, which features 25 laser, radar, and camera sensors.

On the test track, the 18-wheel tractor-trailer demonstrated its ability to navigate complex scenarios without human intervention. The truck’s sensors detected a trash can and a tire obstructing two lanes a quarter-mile ahead. In response, the truck signaled, changed lanes to avoid the obstacles, and continued smoothly. Aurora Innovation Inc. equipped the self-driving semi with 25 sensors to ensure situational awareness and precise maneuvering.

How do most Americans feel about self-driving tractor-trailers?

Many Americans feel uneasy about the idea of self-driving vehicles. A recent AAA poll revealed that 68% of Americans would fear riding in an autonomous vehicle, up from 55% in 2022. Additionally, most states lack regulations on self-driving tractor-trailers, which leaves the public to rely on trucking companies to ensure safety. Although federal agencies can require recalls or order trucks out of service if something goes wrong, they currently have no authority to prevent autonomous vehicles from operating on the roads.

Aurora plans to start carrying loads between terminals for major companies like FedEx, Uber Freight, and Werner within the next nine months despite these concerns. As these trucks hit the roads, the challenge lies in addressing public concerns while demonstrating the safety and reliability of autonomous technology. Aurora and other companies argue that years of testing prove their trucks can operate more safely than human-driven trucks. They stress the advantages of their vehicles’ sensors, which they say can detect obstacles farther than human eyes.

Can truck accidents with self-driving tractor-trailers occur?

While human error likely won't cause self-driving truck crashes, system malfunctions and mechanical failures can be common factors. Technical problems that can occur with self-driving tractor-trailers include:

  • Sensor malfunctions with LiDAR, radar, and cameras.
  • Software bugs that may cause incorrect decision-making.
  • Connectivity issues with updates and real-time information.

Who is liable for a crash involving a self-driving truck?

Crashes involving self-driving trucks can be complicated since they involve multiple parties and insurance companies. To have a strong case, you need to establish clear liability. The parties most likely responsible for this type of crash may include:

  • Trucking company: A trucking company can be found liable if it fails to maintain the vehicle properly, neglects necessary updates, or inadequately trains operators to oversee the autonomous system.
  • Manufacturer: The manufacturer could be liable if a truck accident is caused by a defect in the truck’s hardware or software.
  • Software developers: Software developers can be responsible when the software controlling a truck has flaws or bugs that contribute to a crash.
  • Human operator: A human operator responsible for overseeing an autonomous truck can be found liable if their actions or inactions contributed to a collision.
  • Maintenance providers: A third-party maintenance provider can be responsible if it performs inadequate repairs or fails to identify critical issues during inspections.

Protect your rights after a truck accident. Contact The Herrera Law Firm

Whether with a self-driving tractor trailer or a human-operated big rig, our experienced San Antonio truck accident lawyers at The Herrera Law Firm are here to help if you've been injured in a crash involving a commercial vehicle. Don’t let trucking companies or insurance providers intimidate or deny you the compensation you deserve. Our knowledgeable legal team is dedicated to fighting for your rights and holding negligent parties accountable. To learn how we can help you, contact our San Antonio law firm today for a free consultation.

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