Technology is evolving faster than ever, and the trucking industry could see itself revolutionized sooner than anyone thought. Back in January 2018, we wrote about self-driving technology and how some trucking companies are pushing to make autonomous trucks a reality. Less than a year later, a driverless truck is traversing America’s roadways – but it doesn’t belong to a traditional trucking company.
The truck is straight from Elon Musk’s Tesla, and the prototype version has been driving around the southwest since August. Images of the truck started showing up on the internet and social media when it arrived at the Arkansas headquarters of industry heavyweight JB Hunt.
With more than 12,000 trucks and 100,000 trailers in its fleet, JB Hunt is one of the largest trucking companies in the country, making its decisions important for the entire industry. JB Hunt was one of the first companies to put in a reservation for the Tesla Semi, though it is unknown how many trucks they ordered. If the truck’s operating costs really are the $1.20 per mile Tesla claims – a claim that has drawn skepticism from diesel manufacturers–then it is conceivable that JB Hunt could convert a sizeable portion of the fleet in short order.
How Far Along Is the Technology?
When the Tesla Semi was spotted in Arkansas, Elon Musk tweeted that the vehicle “was driven across the country alone.” He added one critical point: that the truck was operating using Tesla’s existing supercharger network, which surprised many who believed a different charging system would be needed before true long-haul trucking would be possible (Tesla’s “Megacharger” system).
It is important to note that “driven alone” does not mean the truck was fully autonomous. There was a backup driver on board. However, Musk said there were no escorts and no backup vehicles. While the Tesla Semi is still in prototype stage, its ability to cross the U.S. using charging stations meant for regular cars, and without the help of any other vehicles, shows how far along the self-driving, all-electric truck has progressed.
Several stories have come out about accidents involving self-driving cars, perhaps most notably the case of an Uber self-driving car that saw a woman six seconds ahead of time yet failed to stop, resulting in a fatal accident.
With the added weight and power of a semi, it is reasonable to wonder how safe they will be for everyone else on the road. Though a truck like the Tesla Semi would have dozens of cameras to help it drive properly, keeping a large truck in its lane and making sure it can stop properly is much different than doing those things on a regular passenger car.
Only time will tell how safe all-electric, self-driving trucks will be. For now, the industry keeps progressing, testing, and moving ahead toward production. When these mega-machines do hit the road, trust that attorneys like those at Ted B. Lyon & Associates will be here to protect the rights of those who may be injured.