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Exploring the potential safety of self-driving tractor-trailers

Tractor-trailers continue to be the most relied-upon mode for transporting freight in most American states. Although some freight is now delivered by air, rail and marine transports, tractor-trailer cargo transport continues to reign supreme. Illinois residents can attest to the predominant use of land-based freight transportation by the large numbers of tractor-trailers on the roadways. Naturally, this leads to growing concern about truck accidents, which are particularly devastating in many cases.

Here are some statistics covering a one-year period by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association):

-- The rate of fatal accidents involving large trucks increased by four percent from 2011 to 2012.

-- The rate of truck accidents resulting in injury involving large trucks increased by 22 percent from 2011 to 2012.

-- The rate property damage only crashes involving large trucks increased by 14 percent from 2011 to 2012.

What if there were a way to change those statistics for the better? One large truck manufacturer may have found just such a way by building the first autonomous or self-driving tractor-trailer. It works like cruise control with a little more sophistication.

The truck still requires a driver, but it allows the driver to hand over control of the vehicle's critical functions under certain conditions. This puts the truck's computerized system in charge of safe driving actions such as maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles and adjusting its speed according to road or traffic conditions. At intersections or exits, the truck then gives control of the vehicle back to the driver.

The truck is still being tested but is already licensed for operation in Nevada. Whether it will provide a dramatic decrease on the rate of large truck accidents remains to be seen. In the meantime, vehicle safety remains in the hands of human operators. This likely means truck accidents will not yet go away, but those who have been injured in such an accident can turn to a personal injury attorney for assistance in recovering damages.

Source: Land Line Mag, "From the cab: Freightliner's autonomous truck," Suzanne Stempinski, accessed Nov. 11, 2015

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