What Do Self-Driving Trucks Mean for the Trucking Industry?

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The car, truck, and transportation industry are approaching new horizons as we head into a new decade: automated vehicles (AVs), or those with features not requiring human operation. If you keep up on the news, you’ve likely heard stories about automated cars and their potential risks and benefits–but it’s not just personal cars getting an automated makeover.

The logistics industry is beginning to roll out their own automated features that seek to provide immense benefits to fleet managers, logistics companies, and numerous industries in the form of self-driving trucks.

In fact, there are already forms of truck automation being used for package and appliance delivery. While trucking is not yet fully automated–humans still must sit in the driver’s seat and take control of the wheel in case of a malfunction–the goal is to move towards full automation to make freight movement more efficient, cost-effective, and safe.

So, what does this mean for fleet managers? Quite a bit, which is why we’re taking the time to look at some of the key considerations fleet managers need to be aware of as we move into a new phase of vehicle automation.

How to Prepare Your Fleet for Self-Driving Semi Trucks

If you’re a fleet manager, you’re likely aware of the recent innovations in self-driving trucks and their associated features. You may even be employing some of these features in your fleet.

As you continue to prepare for the future of fleet management, it’s important to note the different automation levels. While it may seem overwhelming to imagine a fully automated truck driving down the road, that is still years away. Below are the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) automation levels:

Depiction of the SAE levels of automation ranging from 0 to 5. Read more in the next section about these levels.

Image Via NHTSA.gov

Driverless semi-trucks are certainly a reality, but the most common automated features still require a driver to oversee major driving functions. Over the next few sections, we’ll take a look at what fleet managers can expect when it comes to automated trucking.

Truck Platooning for Efficient Transport

One major automated trucking feature currently being tested is truck platooning. This method of transportation doesn’t involve one self-driving truck, but rather a convoy of two or more trucks that are connected via technology and automated driving systems.

Truck platooning allows trucks to travel at a set, close distance, with each truck reacting to the lead truck’s movements and automated signals. The benefits of platooning include:

            • Efficient transportation that carries goods more quickly, reduces traffic jams and helps trucks use the road effectively, according to weather, conditions, and traffic reports.

            • Improves fuel efficiency thanks to reduced air-drag friction.

            • Safer driving with automatic braking systems that react more quickly than human drivers.

While platooning is expected to have a number of benefits, other considerations need to be factored in such as what types of trucking need platooning, which roads are suitable for it, and how many drivers are actually needed.

Safety Benefits for Fleet Managers

As mentioned above, safety is one of the major benefits associated with self-driving trucks and other AVs. Human error is the most common cause of roadway accidents, including those that involve trucks. Thus, with fewer humans responsible for driving, the roadways should be safer.

This is particularly important in the trucking industry as “55 to 65 percent of those killed or seriously injured in heavy truck accidents are car occupants” and most of these accidents are associated with poor driver judgment on one or both parties.

The goal is to implement for self-driving semi-trucks and automated vehicles to reduce fatalities, injuries, and accidents in general. Additionally, automated features may allow drivers to rest while the truck is moving.

Timely Route Optimization

One of the benefits of automated trucks will be their ability to read road conditions in real-time so that vehicles can be automatically re-routed to the safest, most efficient path. This is known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication.

Additionally, self-driving truck fleets currently employ, and will add on new features, that include:

            • Automatic braking

            • Lane-keeping (keeps the vehicle in lane and warns of movement)

            • Adaptive cruise control

            • Traffic jam assist

            • Self-parking

Develop Best Practices for Automated Fleet Vehicles

As different automated features are offered for trucks, fleet managers want to create best practices to help drivers and other logistics personnel know how to address issues of compliance, local/regional traffic laws, troubleshooting, maintenance, and cost.

Fleet managers need to be aware of the ever-changing state regulations associated with self-driving trucks and AVs. Each state maintains different standards, and currently, many states have no specified regulations regarding AVs. Before investing in any kind of self-driving truck with a commercial trailer, be sure to check local, state, regional, and federal laws.

Driver Training and Education

As automated features become more prevalent, drivers will need to be trained and educated on how to use special features, troubleshoot, and maintain their trucks. This may include information on regulations, training on user manuals and best practices, hands-on training in vehicles, and potentially certifications as they’re developed.

One other factor to consider is how self-driving trucks will affect fleet insurance. It’s expected that AVs will fall under fleet-based ownership meaning that insurers will need to adjust how they price and package their insurance plans. Additionally, since human error is often the cause of accidents, and higher insurance premiums, there may be changes to the way plans are priced.

Start Preparing for Automation Today

Fully automated trucks are still a number of years from hitting the roads, but as fleet managers, it’s a good time to start prepping for what’s to come. Knowing your fleet needs will help you decide between trailer rentals, purchase, and eventually, self-driving trucks. For more information about commercial trailer options, visit one of Hale Trailer Brake and Wheel, Inc.’s trailer rental locations or contact us!

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