Is Public Trust an Impediment for Autonomy?
Imagine driving down a busy highway on a dark evening. Directly to the right is a commercial truck weighing in at ten or twenty tons. No matter how fast or slow the truck is going, the average member of the motoring public may have a bit of apprehension when it comes to sharing the road.
Now imagine this scenario where the steadily moving steel-mammoth is making the trip without a human in the driver’s seat.
There have been few topics with an impact on trucking quite like that of autonomous vehicles. Autonomy is a budding topic in multiple industries, and the economic cornerstone that is freight transportation was always going to be affected.
There are different estimates and predictions about how, when, and to what degree autonomous trucks will affect the current landscape for drivers and carriers. Plenty of questions exist on the matter. How much will it cost to budget in the use of these trucks? How will jobs be affected? Will infrastructure have to be radically changed to accommodate the new driverless trucks?
While economists, safety experts, trucking representatives, and technology specialists have all weighed in on the figurative roadblocks in the way for driverless trucks, one factor may still be an anchor holding the technology back. That factor is something truck drivers struggle to maintain every day – the trust of the public.
Commercial vehicles are often used as scapegoats in many instances of roadway accidents or transportation-based crimes. Given the size and weight of commercial vehicles, it is easy for individuals and their representatives to typecast trucking and demand stricter control over the industry. One of the major reasons for this is the possibility of serious accidents, which is always present when a commercial truck is on the road.
Even truckers, despite their vital role in the U.S. economy, have had to work hard in shaping the public’s perception of them and helping them feel more comfortable around trucks. Though many people marvel at the next tech gadget or futuristic app, driverless trucks are another story entirely.
The popular consensus among trucking insiders is that people may not take too kindly to sharing the road with these self-piloting vehicles. An unresponsive computer in one’s pocket can make for minor frustration – but an unresponsive computer in a moving 80,000-pound truck could be disastrous.