Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
By Jim Adler November 3, 2016

Drivers? Who needs them? We all may be riding in driverless vehicles one day. In fact, did you know that a company already has tested a driverless vehicle for deliveries?

That was the case recently when Anheuser-Busch moved an autonomous-drive tractor trailer hauling beer 120 miles across Colorado (otherwise Coors country, since Coors is based on Golden, CO). The Bud truck traveled with no driver at the wheel on a highway between Fort Collins, CO and Colorado Springs, CO.

It’s said to have been the first-ever commercial shipment made by a self-driving vehicle.

But don’t worry: The trial run wasn’t made with a completely driverless truck. While no driver was at the wheel, a professional truck driver monitored the process from the sleeper berth located to the rear of the driver’s seat.

The beer delivery was a collaboration between Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, MO, and Otto, an Uber subsidiary that’s developing self-driving truck technology. Otto co-founder Lior Ron said the pilot shipment’s “incredible success” shows what can be done when using self-driving technology.

Ron was among several former Google employees who departed that company earlier in 2016 after working on Google’s own self-driving car efforts.

Millions of Trucks Could Go Driverless

As for what Otto’s work could signal for the future, consider this:

Around 3.6 million class 8 trucks are operating in the United States, and many one day could go driverless, eliminating driver fatigue from the frequent causes of big rig accidents.

“Class 8” means such trucks have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of more than 33,000 pounds. Such vehicles normally have at least three axles and include the large trucks known as 18-wheelers, semis, tractor trailers, diesel trucks or big rigs, in addition to some single-unit dump trucks.

For the 3.6 million large trucks in America, professional drivers were at the wheel for over 279 billion miles in 2014, reports the ATA, or American Trucking Association. That’s a lot of miles for potential driver errors.

Anheuser-Busch now hopes to see new driverless truck technology put to use throughout the shipping business in America.

As for driverless cars, also known as autonomous cars, they are also involved in trial runs in the U.S. and other countries.

In 2018, Volvo plans to test-drive about 100 driverless cars around London with help from volunteers. These cars will not be marked, as is the case with many test vehicles, in order to avoid “bullying” of the law-abiding vehicles by other drivers. Research has shown other drivers may try to speed, cut off and challenge self-driving cars which they know will do anything to remain within the limits of the law.

Texas May Consider Driverless Cars

In America, legalizing driverless cars is up to the states. California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Virginia and Washington, D.C. have allowed testing of driverless cars on public roads since 2015. Texas is among 16 other states which have introduced legislation regarding the future of driverless cars.

How do such things work? Technological advances enable autonomous vehicles to sense their environment and respond immediately to any changes in it. It’s believed such vehicles could virtually eliminate the No. 1 cause of traffic accidents, which is driver error.

Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 per cent of all crashes are due to drivers’ mistakes, such as being distracted by cell phones, being drunk or falling asleep at the wheel. An autonomous vehicle wouldn’t be subject to any of those things.

However, autonomous vehicles will not guarantee safety.

Already one man has been killed in a crash when his autonomous vehicle failed to distinguish between a white big rig and a bright sky behind it as the semi truck turned left in front of him and across his vehicle’s path. His Tesla S Autopilot then drove under the truck, with the passenger compartment colliding with the truck’s bottom.

That happened on May 7, 2016 in Williston, FL. But in this case, it wasn’t a fully autonomous vehicle. The Tesla S Autopilot is considered “assisted driving” which doesn’t completely automate the driving process. Rather, it’s supposed to help drivers remain in a lane, change lanes and detect potential collisions.

For truly autonomous vehicles, issues of liability also are in flux when it comes to driverless car accident lawsuits. Also in question, according to the American Bar Association, is the insurance impact of driverless cars in terms of product liability, privacy violations and data security breaches.

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