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What Do Driverless Cars Mean for Truckers?

Ten years ago, driverless vehicles seemed like a Jetsonian dream. Today, they are very much a reality that truck drivers need to prepare for. The likelihood of a truck driver maneuvering alongside driverless vehicles is high. With Uber testing the waters of autonomous vehicles and Waymo partnering with Walmart to shuttle shoppers in driverless cars, truckers need to know how to interact with these high-tech vehicles.

Communicating with Autonomous Vehicles

The biggest barrier between trucks manned by a human driver and autonomous vehicles is language. While driverless cars don’t speak like humans do, they do possess complex technology that allows them to communicate with other high-tech vehicles. It can also interact with its surrounding to interpret traffic lights, lane markings, and road signs.

However, the technology can’t interpret and react to human forms of communication. For example, when another driver flashes his or her headlights at an approaching car it can mean several things: a police officer is ahead, his or her high beams are on, his or her headlights are off, or even signaling to the driver that he or she has the right of way to proceed first. The intent isn’t always clear to humans so they use context clues to figure it out—deciphering this form of communication is next to impossible for an autonomous car.

Another problem is following directions from a human. Driverless cars can learn road signs, what various bumper stickers mean (i.e. baby on board), and other safety signs that help them navigate the roads. However, police often direct traffic when a light goes out or a major accident consumes much of the road. Questions remain as to whether programmers can code the ability to follow human directions into autonomous vehicles. Then, even if it is possible, how can the developers be sure the car will respond as it should if the human giving directions uses slight variations (i.e. pointing vs sweeping an arm to indicate direction)?

The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

As programmers work to resolve lingering questions, the autonomous vehicle industry isn’t showing signs of slowing down. As Tesla, Uber, and Apple dominate the headlines, other leaders are emerging in the autonomous vehicle industry. GM, Waymo, Daimler-Bosch, Ford, and many others have laid their claim to the growing market as well. Truck drivers will soon be navigating highways alongside autonomous vehicles and need to prepare for how to interact with them safely. To learn more about transportation technology and safety, contact the experts at Encompass Risk Solutions.

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