Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A chance to test drive an autonomous truck? Sure, why not

First things, first. Write this down. Tattoo it on your forehead if you must:

OOIDA will never advocate for anything that puts well-trained, highly professional and skilled truck drivers out of a job. Period. No rulemaking. No technology. Nothing.

There’s quite the buzz out on the roads right now about “driverless” trucks.

Freightliner Inspiration (Photo by Suzanne Stempinski)
There’s a second point that needs to be made very clear right now. The technology being promoted by Daimler Trucks is not “driverless.” It is autonomous. Some of you may feel like this is just playing with words. But it’s not.

Autonomous trucks are not driverless trucks. At this point the technology is only capable of driving in one lane. It cannot perform evasive maneuvers or change lanes. It also requires two people be in the truck. So it’s actually requiring more drivers than the normal trucks out there.

Land Line and OOIDA are keeping a close eye on the development of this technology. So much so that Suzanne Stempinski, Land Line’s field editor and test-driving editor, is the first non-Daimler engineer to receive autonomous certification. That means she can drive these trucks so we get a “hands off the wheel” perspective of what these trucks really can and cannot do.

When Daimler offered the opportunity to license Suzanne to drive these trucks, there was only one answer. Yes. You simply cannot turn down the chance to take these trucks for a spin instead of just relying on the word of others.

As I write this, Suzanne – who happens to have a couple of million safe miles under her former truck driving belt – has successfully tested for the license. She is armed with a lengthy list of questions and concerns not only we have, but you, our members and readers have.
"I keep thinking I ought to be doing something," Suzanne
Stempinski says during her driving test for an autonomous
license. She tested in the Freightliner Inspiration truck.
(Photo by and courtesy of Kevin Jones, American Trucker)

Working trucks with no drivers in them will not likely happen in our lifetime. There are simply too many hurdles that all the technology in the world cannot overcome. But what we could see and likely will are various components on these trucks being offered as options in the “normal” trucks. That’s why we are making sure we have a hands-on tester in the ready for when OEMs trot this stuff out.

Even when there is some cool new bell or whistle that can actually help drivers, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find OOIDA ever endorsing a mandate. The government needs to stay out of the truck design business and let the needs of the driver dictate what technology is or is not needed.

OOIDA is certainly opposed to any technology that will lead to a “dumbing down” of the drivers operating them. Technology, while it can be helpful, must not instill a sense of complacency or false sense of security. Nothing replaces vigilant, attentive, safe driving.

Even though technology is changing, those core principles of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have not, and will not. But we’re not going to turn a blind eye to what’s going on out there and not know first-hand the good – and bad – being developed for future trucks.