It may be several years before we see a complete rollout of autonomous vehicle technology on the market, as more research, testing, and development is needed. In the meantime, this technology comes with uncertainties — especially when it comes to safety.
We're currently seeing an increase in autonomous vehicle testing, particularly in the trucking industry, and Texas may soon be the place for fully-fledged autonomous trucks to deliver commercial goods.
Self-driving trucks: The new normal in Texas
According to an article in Wire, Kodiak Robotics, a Silicon Valley startup, could potentially do business on Texas roads. It is currently not legal for autonomous trucks to operate on California roadways but that state is working on implementing regulations. That hasn't stopped Don Burnette and Paz Eshel, the founders of Kodiak Robotics, from considering other options in the meantime.
“For now, we don’t see an immediate, short-term path forward in California, and that's why we’re looking elsewhere,” said Burnette.
Kodiak recently opened an eight-employee office in Dallas, where it intends to administer its first autonomous truck route. One company — whose name is not yet disclosed — will hire Kodiak to transport inventory between Dallas and Houston, which will account for a 400-mile roundtrip.
Initially, these autonomous trucks will be monitored by a "safety driver," who will take over the vehicle functions in the event of a malfunction. Since autonomous trucks are primarily designed for highway trips, safety drivers will guide the trucks on and off highways and into distribution terminals. In the meantime, autonomous trucks will not be used for urban driving. Kodiak seeks to eventually cover every corner of Texas, however.
What are the safety concerns that still need to be addressed?
In 2017, legislation was passed in Texas allowing driverless vehicles to operate within the state. Developers are allowed to test autonomous vehicles on Texas roads without a special permit or the approval of authorities. Several other companies have either operated or tested autonomous trucks on Texas roads since it became legal to do so.
Autonomous technology poses a serious risk to other drivers, however, and operator distraction is often a factor in crashes involving autonomous vehicles.
Operators who become too reliant or comfortable with the technology may be tempted to take their full attention away from the road ahead. That's what happened in Phoenix, Arizona in 2018. After the operator of a self-driving Uber became distracted by her cellphone, she failed to stop the vehicle before it fatally struck a pedestrian.
Like any other type of technology, autonomous trucks are not foolproof. The slightest defect or malfunction can result in a catastrophe. That's why if you or a loved one was hurt in a truck crash, even one involving a self-driving truck, speak to an experienced Houston attorney as soon as possible.
The legal team at the Law Offices of Gene S. Hagood has more than 15 years of experience representing truck crash victims. We know how to take on negligent trucking companies and their insurers, and get results. Schedule your free case evaluation with us today by contacting us online.