Are Europe’s Self-Driving Trucks Safe?

Self-Driving Trucks

By Cheryl Roy

Self-driving vehicles are no longer a figment of science fiction. Manufacturers have already developed models and are tirelessly working on perfecting these. At the center of automation lies the issue of safety. Some see in self-driving cars a solution to eliminate human error and thus decrease traffic accidents. Others believe that automated vehicles pose a whole new threat to road safety caused by cyber-attacks.

The European Truck Platooning Challenge

In 2016 a self-driven truck convoy completed its first major trip across Europe. Six different manufacturers participated with their trucks in the challenge. Small-sized convoys were formed and led by a truck driven by a professional. The self-driven trucks follow the lead automatically. Braking and acceleration are synchronized through a Wi-Fi connection. Although it is not a completely automated procedure, it is a big step into the future.

Self-driving trucks have been on the roads for years now. The system remains under development to maximize the benefits and minimize risks.

Challenges for Self-Driving Trucks

Automation of truck driving does come with its own set of challenges. The European Union has identified some points of focus to be addressed by researchers:

Safety

It is paramount to ensure the safety of all the people who share the road with automated vehicles. Also, self-driving cars must obey traffic rules. If all functions well, these trucks should contribute to a more fluid traffic flow.

Liability

What happens when a self-driving truck is involved in a collision? While the risk for accidents can be diminished, it is debatable if these can be avoided altogether. Policies must be in place to determine the legal proceedings to be enacted in such cases and determine who should be held liable.

Since there are already self-driving trucks on the road in Europe, policymakers need to keep up with technological evolution and get legislation caught up to speed. Whenever involved in a traffic accident, it is best to contact an attorney for truck accident. Legal experts are up to date with the latest legislative changes and can guide you through legal proceedings. What is more, they can help get fair compensation for damages and injuries suffered.

Data Protection

Automated systems are not exempt from data protection rules. However, self-driving vehicles may still be exposed to cyber-attacks. This vulnerability is of great concern regarding road safety. Before automated vehicles become the norm, researchers must find a way to make the cars bulletproof against cybersecurity attacks. The consequences of a hack could be catastrophic.

More on the Issue of Safety

Experts try to ensure maximum safety and efficiency for automated cars. Vehicles are fitted with high-end technology to ensure monitoring of road conditions. The ideal is that self-driving cars will one day eliminate human error. However, many manufacturers choose to maintain a human element in the automation process as a fail-safe.

Safety Features

Automated vehicles are fitted with a wide range of high-end features, which include:

  • Sensors
  • Embedded cameras
  • GPS
  • Radars for short-range
  • Satellite receivers

All these elements, and more, work together in harmony to perform the driving task in safe conditions. Some manufacturers are creating vehicles that have full 360-degree visibility available in all weather conditions. What is more, obstacles can be detected as far as 1,600 meters away. This allows for a more generous reaction time.

Eliminating Human Error

Truck drivers are exposed to difficult working conditions through the nature of their work. Long hours of driving can set in drowsiness, fatigue, and a diminished state of alertness. Thus, a driver can slip into unsafe driving practices and become more prone to errors. An automated driving system can overcome such problems. However, researchers must be careful not to create new issues while fixing existing ones.

Levels of Autonomy

Automated vehicles run on different levels of autonomy, between 3 and 5. Cars with an incorporated level 3 and 4 of autonomy are currently undergoing intensive testing. These are expected to become available until 2030. While level 5 vehicles that are completely automated could hit the market sometime after 2030.

However, this does not mean that the goal is to achieve level 5 automation for all vehicles. Many manufacturers do not aim higher than level 4. At this point, the human element is still part of the equation, and can take over if it becomes necessary. Tesla decided to focus on a level 3 autonomy. Vehicles are equipped to handle the majority of tasks, but it remains under human control.

The Future of Europe and Beyond

Self-driving trucks are teasing to become the future of transport in Europe and beyond. However, for this prediction to become reality manufacturers must first prove that the vehicles are safe for other drivers on the road.

The models that already exist have cutting-edge systems that help monitor traffic conditions, and they successfully incorporate a live data feed. Some manufacturers opt to automate driving but maintain the human element as the ultimate fail-safe mechanism.

About the Author

Cheryl Roy

Cheryl Roy has built a successful legal career over the years. However, she wanted to reach out to people beyond her practice and decided to do so by writing. Cheryl took it as a personal mission to make legal information more accessible to the public. Therefore, she started sharing her expertise with individuals and businesses facing a legal dilemma. Now she has branched out to many online and offline platforms and works as a collaborative editor for Bader Scott Law Firm.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.