Why are there so many stories about autonomous trucks? Don’t bother about them; I have a much better solution for road safety. A quick look at the accident stats will tell you the problem with road safety will not be fixed by introducing autonomous trucks, quite the opposite.
Let’s imagine an Australia where autonomous trucks are not only allowed, but actively encouraged. The technology exists to keep the trucks on the road and running at a safe and legal speed. GPS positioning means the truck knows exactly where it is at all times.
Add LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) into the mix, this light radar sends out a layered series of beams and give the controlling computer a picture of moving and stationary objects around it. From this data it can work out what it is, whether it is moving, if so in what direction and at what speed.
All of this technology is available now. What needs to be developed is protocols under which such a system has to work. How far away from a parked car must a truck pass, would be an example. Setting speeds for certain road conditions and traffic levels would also be important.
Then there is the decision making to consider. This is what the truck control system will do when something goes wrong. The computer is capable of making an instantaneous decision, if it has sufficient data. It will also be capable of using both steering and braking system to avoid something or stop safely. We can assume the truck will use all of the latest electronic braking and stability control to maximise the safety of an incident.
There is one problem, and it’s a big problem. In fact it’s the big problem today, and it won’t go away if all of our trucks are autonomous. It’s the other vehicles on the road that are the problem, they are the cause of most of the accidents.
So, don’t bother with autonomous trucks at all. Just make all cars autonomous and you will cut fatality rates instantly. In the case of fatal accidents in which a truck and a light vehicle are involved, around 90 per cent of the accidents are caused by the car driver.
If we really want to stop fatalities through incidents involving trucks and cars on our roads, we simply have to take control of the cars away from the human beings and hand it over to the robots. All of the technology, which makes the autonomous truck safe makes the autonomous car even safer.
If the roads were full of autonomous trucks, there would still be light vehicle drivers acting recklessly and stupidly and putting themselves in harm’s way. The sheer unpredictability of the car driver would puzzle the computer, just as much as does the current controller, the truck driver.
On the other hand, having all of the cars on the road behaving rationally would totally transform life on the road. Truck drivers in an 85-tonne A-double would be able to drive along the highway, surrounded by cars and be secure they would all act rationally and safely around the truck. More importantly, there’s a good chance nearly 90 per cent of all accidents involving a fatality, a car and a truck would be prevented.