driverleSs lorries - blessing, or accident waiting to happen?

There's been a lot of debate going on over the last year or so about the driverless car, and whether or not this revolutionary technology is a huge leap forward or an accident waiting to happen. Since the introduction of the driverless lorry, the debate has heated up further, with their progress through safety testing being closely monitored. There are already specialist regulations for driverless vehicles being developed (with Google playing a huge part). In fact, driverless lorries have been trialled all across the UK since the end of last year. As the time comes closer to drivers being automated, we wanted to take a look at the pros and cons of driverless lorries being out on the roads.

Benefits

There are a lot of positive points for driverless cars in the UK. One of the biggest bonuses is the sheer amount of time it could save UK commuters. The average driver in England spends 235 hours a year driving - that's 6 working weeks! With a driverless car, you can use that time more productively. It'll also make our roads safer, since driverless cars are pre-programmed to follow speed limits, pull over for emergency vehicles and avoid collisions. In fact, it's been predicted that if 90% of cars on the road were autonomous, the number of road accidents would fall from 6 million a year to 1.3 million, and deaths would fall from 33,000 to 11,300 per year.

For lorries though, it's a slightly different story. Trials of the driverless lorry in Germany have praised the vehicles for their safety over human drivers, stating that 'it never gets tired, it never loses concentration or focus. No matter how well you accelerate, slow down or steer a truck, you can never do it as good as the highway pilot (the driverless lorry model) can'. Predictions have indicated that self-driving lorries could make our roads much safer, cutting sown on the 3000 truck accident deaths reported every year, and lowering pollution levels while speeding up delivery rates for busineses nationwide.

Risks

Of course, no new technology is without it's risks. Not having a human driver behind the wheel of a vehicle of any kind comes with some significant safety risks, let alone a several tonne lorry. Since the release of the test lorries last year, the programme hasn't been without it's teething problems. These issues are usually resulting in dings to cars, scrapes to the lorries and other minor calibration issues. But in 2015, motorists were actually making a point of slamming into driverless cars in order to expose a key flaw in their design. The issue they discovered is that these driverless vehicles follow the rules of the road to the letter at all times - something that can't be said for other drivers. So these overly cautious driverless cars were getting involved in accidents with motorists who weren't expecting a vehicle to travel at the right speeds, and there have even been incidents of Google's driverless cars being pulled over for going too slowly and causing traffic jams. Another big hit to the progress of the driverless car is its potential for fatalities, the first of which happened in May 2016 when a Telsa on autopilot couldn't distinguish between the white sky and a lorry, and ploughed into the lorry at top speed on a motorway.

Could They Replace Real Drivers?

Here's the scary part - analysts and industry experts have estimated that fully automated lorries could replace 1.7 million HGV drivers within the next decade. The evidence shows that automated lorries can not only be safer, but will reduce costs for the transport and logistics industry across the board. But if you want our opinion - this is still a long way off. The truth is that while the technology might be there, the will of haulage businesses to adopt this technology isn't there yet. For the moment, employers are more trusting of human drivers, who can read the roads properly, react quickly and make common sense decisions about their safety and the efficiency of their driving.

There are of course other alternatives in the works to improve road safety with driverless vehicles, particulrly where HGV's are concerned. For example, Samsung is currently piloting an idea to put video walls on the back of HGV's to broadcast lane traffic around the vehicle, but for the most part, we are still a long way off. If you would like to find out more about the future of driverless lorries, and what that might mean for HGV drivers, get in touch with us today.

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