The American Transportation Research Institute released a report concerning the impact of autonomous trucks and the trucking industry as a whole. The report covered a variety of issues, among them the impact of self-driving trucks on hours-of-service limitations. This is an area of contention between truck drivers, trucking companies and safety advocates. The ATRI is an industry group, but its research does pose interesting questions about the future of trucking safety. 

The hours limitation

Truck drivers, particularly owner-operators, face enormous economic pressure to push themselves to the limit and beyond. Hours-of-service rules are intended to address the problem of fatigued driving. Drivers are required to take breaks and avoid driving too many hours at a single stretch, over the course of a day, and over the course of a week. Without those restrictions, truck drivers and trucking companies might succumb to the temptation to drive well past the point of exhaustion

The hours-of service regulations put forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have drawn heavy criticism from some in the trucking industry. Some contend that the restrictions force drivers onto the road in suboptimal conditions. Drivers are also not required to sleep or rest during breaks. They are an imperfect attempt to stop drivers from getting behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive safely. 

The impact of autonomous trucks

The ATRI report suggests that the 30-minute break, 14-hour on-duty limit and 11-hour driving time limit might all become obsolete when self-driving trucks become the norm. The report suggests that trucks will still be required to have a human driver in the cockpit, ready to take over if the autonomous system fails. Despite that requirement, the ATRI does not believe that the driver’s hours of service will need to be regulated.

Most people pushing for autonomous vehicle technology are hoping to reduce the shocking number of fatalities caused by car and truck accidents every year. Truck drivers who are immune to distraction, fatigue, carelessness or other human failings would make the roads safer for everyone. The hope is that the benefits of self-driving trucks will be realized sooner rather than later.

Source: Overdrive, “Autonomous trucks pave way for hours reform and more, but major roadblocks remain, says ATRI” by James Jaillet, 17 November 2016