Pennsylvania big rig drivers may see a number of changes in the industry if autonomous trucks are introduced, but at a public meeting of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, it became clear that some concerns and regulations must first be addressed. One that was raised was the need for tractor-trailers to have manned controls. A safety example put forth by a board member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was one in which an autonomous vehicle was faced with a choice between hitting a brick wall or a group of schoolchildren.
However, most of the focus was on hours of service and the changes that might be ahead for commercial drivers’ licenses. Some industry stakeholders wondered whether a driver might be considered off-duty despite being in the cab of the truck. One consultant suggested that during long wait times that were highly automated, such as sitting at ports, drivers might even have the opportunity for a nap.
Opinions differed widely on whether a special CDL should be required to operate an autonomous vehicle. One example given was a front tire blowout that might require driver assistance. Others felt that the existing CDL would be sufficient.
Automated vehicles may considerably reduce truck accidents that occur as a result of driver error such as driving while fatigued, distracted driving and driving under the influence. Truck accidents may involve jackknifing, a vehicle rolling under the truck or other complications that do not occur with smaller vehicles, and this could result in serious injuries. If the truck driver is at fault and injured victims are unable to obtain sufficient compensation from insurance to pay for their medical expenses and other bills, they might want to enlist the assistance of an attorney when seeking damages through a lawsuit.