Will Technology Companies Make Semi-Trucks Safer?

Semi-trucks indisputably play an important role in commerce across Oregon and the United States. Without these trucks and the hard work of drivers and other employees in the transportation industry, Oregonians would not enjoy the vast array of goods typically available across the retail sector. The ability of tractor-trailer trucks to carry huge cargoes also helps keep the cost of goods lower by economizing on transportation costs. However, it is also indisputable that thousands of injuries and deaths occur every year as the result of semi-truck crashes. The sheer weight and size of semi-trucks can make the slightest of collisions with passenger vehicles incredibly dangerous. Now, we are entering an era in which autonomous and semi-autonomous semi-trucks are becoming a reality. Should these and other innovations cause us to fear for our safety, or will technology make us safer?

Dangers of Semi-Trucks

The dangers from semi-trucks are real. In 2014 alone, 1,400 large truck crashes occurred in Oregon that involved disabling vehicle damage, injury, or death. The same year, 88,000 crashes occurred nationally. Following are some common causes of truck crashes:

  • Driver error;
  • Equipment failure;
  • Lack of adequate driver training;
  • Excessive speed;
  • Inadequate or improper truck maintenance;
  • Distracted driving; and
  • Actions by passenger vehicles.

Technological Changes

Many technological advances have occurred in recent years, and many more are coming. Below, we will discuss a few of them.

  • Electric Semi-Trucks - Several companies, such as Tesla and Cummins, are manufacturing all-electric semi-trucks. While one might wonder whether industry will ultimately welcome these trucks, the early answer appears to be that some companies are at least willing to give them a try. According to a recent CNBC report, PepsiCo recently pre-ordered 100 Tesla Semi-trucks. In a recent TechCrunch article, the author discusses an interesting safety feature. According to Tesla, it’s new electric truck is designed to prevent “jack-knifing,” a dangerous circumstance in which the tractor and trailer turn in different directions, often causing them both to flip over. The Tesla semi-truck senses weight distribution and can control individual wheels on the truck to automatically correct for weight-shifting. Driver intervention is not required.
  • Telematics tracking systems – By integrating GPS technology with computers and communication technology, a trucking company can monitor a fleet of trucks in real-time, knowing the exact location of every truck, its speed, and whether it is even turned on. Safety can be enhanced by enforcing speed regulations, driver rest periods, and by reducing unauthorized vehicle use.
  • Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles – As futuristic as self-driving vehicles seem, they are coming. Obviously, the effectiveness of the technology is a question which will only be answered with time. However, assuming the technology works as advertised, the safety benefits become obvious. Many trucking accidents are caused by the behavior of drivers. For example, drivers may be distracted, tired, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, speeding, or driving dangerously. Without drivers, all of these dangers are arguably eliminated.

Contact a Lawyer

Fortunately, society and technology seem to be working together in an attempt to make our roadways safer. Unfortunately, on many occasions we still see death, injury and destruction from semi-truck crashes caused by negligent or intentional wrong-doing. The law can continue to do its part in keeping society safe by holding such wrongdoers accountable for their actions. If you have questions about an accident with a semi-truck, please contact the experienced trucking lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield for a free consultation.


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