Having a person at the controls, a reform in hours of service and potential changes to requirements for and types of commercial driver’s licenses were all topics at a listening session of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on April 24. At the session, one person presented the example of an autonomous truck given a choice to hit a group of schoolchildren or a wall as an example of how a Virginia driver may still be needed to take over the controls.
Regarding hours reform, some wondered whether a driver could be in the cab of an autonomous vehicle but still not accumulate on-duty hours. Some parts of driving, it was pointed out, are almost already fully automated, such as when drivers might wait as much as two hours for boarding at a port and never move at a speed exceeding 5 mph. Drivers might even be able to leave the cab and nap in these circumstances in an autonomous vehicle.
Opinions varied widely regarding the need for a change in CDLs. One safety expert argued that drivers of autonomous vehicles should have a special endorsement because they might need to handle situations such as taking over the controls quickly in the event of a front tire blowout. Others thought these duties were no different from those a CDL already requires.
Autonomous trucks are expected to reduce the overall occurrence of truck accidents, which can be very serious. The size and weight of the vehicles can result in a collision that leaves people severely injured. A long recovery period or permanent disability can be expensive, and injured victims might be counting on compensation from the insurance company to help them. If adequate compensation is not forthcoming and it can be demonstrated that the accident was due to truck driver negligence, one option might be filing a lawsuit with the assistance of an attorney.