Autonomous semis to help alleviate fatigue-related crashes

DrowsysemidriverIt comes as no surprise that driving a semi on a cross-country venture can lead to drowsy driving-related crashes. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimated that 100,000 accidents annually are related to drowsy driving. In addition, federal data shows that 90 percent of truck crashes are due to human error, much of that due to fatigue. Drowsy drivers mirror the behavior of drunk driving with impaired judgment and slower reaction times. A solution to this problem may lie in self-driving semis; helping to decrease the chances of drowsy driving-related accidents and improve overall safety on roadways.

This May, Nevada was the first state to license two self-driving commercial trucks on their roads. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck, manufactured by Daimler Trucks North America, is an18-wheel model with Level 3 autonomy. See our previous post on autonomous vehicles.

Ht_Daimler_AG_2_tl_15050Although this truck model still requires a driver with a valid commercial driver’s license, it is providing a benefit to drivers because they are not required to be in control the entire trip; it gives them the ability to focus on scheduling and routing. If the truck senses a situation it cannot handle, it will alert the driver; and if the driver does not respond within five seconds, it will pull over and slow itself to a stop. No texting or napping while driving still applies.

Nevada is the only state to grant a license to these vehicles; therefor they are only permitted to travel within Nevada borders. The truck had to undergo a set amount of mileage testing before it was allowed to be on roads. "Our goal was to not only showcase what is technologically possible, but to do it in a regulated environment with safety standards and other oversight requirements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, a member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Daimler Trucks and Daimler Buses, at the release ceremony of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.

DTNA predicts that self-driving semis will be on the roads before self-driving passenger cars. As mentioned in our previous article, four states and the District of Columbia allow testing of autonomous vehicles as long as a human driver is behind the wheel.

Bernhard notes that DTNA is a long ways away from taking orders for the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.  “We are just getting people inspired,” he said. “Next steps include getting more states to license autonomous trucks.”

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