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Self-driving trucks: the answer to truck accidents?

When truck drivers drive negligently, the results can be catastrophic. Despite federal trucking regulations governing drivers as well as trucking companies, many still drive drowsy, under the influence of drugs (prescription or otherwise) or take dangerous actions behind the wheel that lead to truck accidents with serious injuries or deaths resulting. New technology, however, has some observers cautiously optimistic that it could make the roads safer for drivers in Denver and across the country who must share the road with tractor-trailers.

The technology is the self-driving semi truck. A West Coast company has developed a self-driving system that can be installed in existing big rigs. The system uses data from several long-range radars, five cameras and other sensors along with machine learning software to "see" the world outside the truck and respond in real time.

Recently, a truck equipped with the system successfully drove a 2,400 cross-country route. While drivers rode inside, the truck needed no human intervention on the freeway for the entire trip. The company envisions a program with human drivers taking over control when driving on city streets and when entering and exiting freeways, but allowing the system to drive the truck on the freeways.

Would self-driving trucks protect Denver residents from negligent human truck drivers? In some ways, a computer system would not be subject to factors like truck driver fatigue, distracted driving or other kinds of negligence. However, a computer system can only be as good as its programming. Sensors and electronics would all require diligent maintenance and testing, above and beyond what a truck already requires. And human operators could still cause accidents during times where they are supposed to be in control.

Legal questions, of course, arise when considering an accident caused by a self-driving truck. Who would bear responsibility for compensating victims: the human driver, the truck company or the company that designed the self-driving system? Truck accidents already have the potential to be quite complex, and a legal professional can play an important role in protecting victims today and in the future.

Source: CNBC, "A self-driving truck just drove from Los Angeles to Jacksonville," Lora Kolodny, Feb. 6, 2018

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