www.dcvelocity.com AUGUST 2017 DC VELOCITY 39
ations beyond 1,000 miles could “strike at the heart” of
intermodal’s value proposition of cost-effective long-haul
Clair said the effect of autonomous trucks on the
competitive landscape would first be felt through lower
motor carrier insurance premiums as insurers incorporate newfangled safety improvements into their underwriting standards. But Todd Denton, managing director,
transportation and logistics, for London-based insurance
giant Aon plc, which has long experience in trucking, cautioned against making such a black-and-white assumption. Denton acknowledged that technologies enabling
automated braking and collision avoidance are positive
developments. But he warned against an overreliance by
humans on technology, which could create a new set of
safety concerns and liability issues if a driver in the cab
can’t react fast enough during the critical seconds before
An accident involving autonomous trucks could open
up a Pandora’s Box of liability issues involving truck
manufacturers and deep-pocketed technology providers if
it is determined that a system error, not driver error, was
the cause, Denton said. What’s more, there is a host of
unanswered questions as to fault should a cyberattack lead
to an accident by causing a truck to malfunction, he said.
For now, there is only one safe assumption: that
autonomous truck technology will be ready before many
in business and the public are prepared to embrace it.
Federal truck safety regulators are just now starting
down a long road toward shaping a driverless future. The
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA),
a subagency of the Department of Transportation, has
already assigned three task forces to the project, according
to Larry Minor, FMCSA’s head of policy.
Among the many issues on the table will be whether
federal law governing the length of a driver’s workday,
which includes the hours a driver can be behind the wheel,
should be adjusted to account for a driver’s effectively
becoming a passenger for most of a trip. Again, as the
theory goes, the longer a driver can stretch a workday, the
more productive that driver can be.
Yet truckers are likely to find labor savings capped if
drivers still need to be hired and retained, even if it means
just having them seated in the cab. Furthermore, said
John Bagileo, a long-time transportation attorney, drivers
accompanying autonomous trucks may need to be trained
in a new and sophisticated type of roadside maintenance
should a system glitch occur far from any mechanic.
Mastering that skill set will come at a cost to truckers and
drivers alike, Bagileo said.
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