Driverless tractor-trailers: Advancements and concerns for Virginia

Driverless tractor-trailers, also known as autonomous trucks, are vehicles that can operate without human intervention. They use a variety of sensors and software to navigate the road, avoid obstacles, and obey traffic laws.

driverless tractor-trailer on the desert highway

In recent years, there has been significant progress in the development of driverless tractor-trailers. Several companies, including Waymo, TuSimple, and Aurora, are testing autonomous trucks on public roads. In 2023, Kodiak Robotics became the first company to operate a driverless truck on a commercial route between Dallas and Atlanta.

What are the benefits of driverless trucks?

As you can see from the video, driverless tractor-trailers have the potential to revolutionize the trucking industry. They could:

  • Reduce driver shortages
  • Improve fuel efficiency
  • Make the roads safer by eliminating driver error

However, in exchange for those potential improvements, there are also some concerns about the deployment of driverless trucks, including potential safety risks.

Hackers trying to hack into a Tesla

Tesla Hackathon Photo credit: TechCrunch

Safety concerns about driverless trucks

The biggest concern about driverless tractor-trailers is safety. Autonomous trucks are still under development, and there is always the possibility that they could make mistakes.

Reaction time

For example, a driverless truck might not be able to properly identify and avoid an obstacle. Another concern is the ability to react quickly when adapting to a sudden change in traffic conditions.

Imperfect Software

 In April 2022, TuSimple reported a crash to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration because its self-driving tractor-trailer suddenly veered into a jersey wall. The crash was blamed on operator error, but it highlights these vehicles’ dangers on our highways. If these trucks rely on remote or automated monitoring, and the self-driving software or the hardware of the truck itself fails, it can create a catastrophe on the highway.

Hacking/cyber attacks

Another safety concern is that driverless trucks could be hacked. Modern vehicles have become increasingly computerized and dependent on software updates delivered ‘over the air.’ Tesla is a prime example of this technology in personal automobiles. Their vehicles rely on software patches and updates to unlock functionality, troubleshoot glitches, or enable basic functions.

Annually, they sponsor a Hack-a-thon—an event where hackers are invited to break into a vehicle to help identify potential exploits in its software. Every year the hackers are successful in finding exploits. In fact, hackers have rendered the Tesla car unsafe to drive.

This quality assurance is helpful to Tesla because it shows them what vulnerabilities exist in their software. After the Hack-a-thon ends, Tesla patches up the open issues. Driverless tractor-trailers use this same type of ‘over the air’ system for their software and monitoring. If malicious hackers were able to exploit the technology, it could pose a grave threat to every driver on the road. This is another reason why the testing of these vehicles must be so meticulous.

Driverless tractor-trailer on autopilot

Virginia personal injury law and driverless tractor-trailers

Under Virginia law, the owner of a commercial motor vehicle, such as a trucking company, can be liable for the negligence of the driver should an accident take place. When there is no driver, then the investigation into the accident must be more detailed in exploring exactly what went wrong.

Accountability can also create legal issues. It is not clear how liability would be apportioned between the owner of the truck, the company that developed the self-driving technology, and the software provider.

Tips for staying safe around driverless tractor-trailers

If you see a driverless tractor-trailer on the road, it is important to be extra cautious. Here are some tips for staying safe:

  • Give the truck plenty of space.
  • Be aware that the truck may not be able to react as quickly as a human driver.
  • Avoid cutting in front of the truck or making sudden lane changes.
  • If you see that the truck is having problems, call 911 immediately.
Screen of a driverless tractor-trailer

Photo credit Randell Suba – Teslarati

What are some of the nuances of tractor-trailer cases?

After an accident is reported to the trucking company, they often deploy specialists to the scene of the accident that very same day. Their goal is to photograph and document evidence favorable to their case.

Many trucking companies will have their insurance representatives call you as soon as the very next day after the accident. Their goal is to get a statement from the injured party that may be used against them. These insurance specialists are professionally trained to come across as empathetic and friendly. This is in hopes that the injured party will open up. Often, the clients are in pain and on medication, which is not the ideal time to speak directly to someone representing the defendant. You are not required to give a statement. You can direct them to your attorney.

Given the swift actions that these seasoned trucking companies employ to take advantage of potential plaintiffs, choosing the right attorney, and quickly, can be your best course of action.

Allen & Allen has an in-house Investigations team, comprised of seasoned law enforcement professionals. They too can deploy to the scene of the accident site and retrieve photographs and other evidence that can prove our clients were not negligent. Sometimes, our firm will even enlist the help of car accident reconstruction specialists.

driverless truck moving through a city

For attorneys working on a driverless tractor-trailer case

If you are a personal injury attorney and seeking a Virginia lawyer to be of counsel, or a Virginia firm in need of support for a complicated case, we can help. We partner with firms across the nation, helping them to safeguard a reputation of excellence.

If you have been injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer

Driverless tractor-trailers are a new and rapidly developing technology. While they have incredible potential to revolutionize the trucking industry, they will also require continued testing to ensure that they do not pose a threat to other drivers.

If you are involved in an accident with a driverless tractor-trailer, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in Virginia. The trucking attorneys at Allen & Allen can help you understand your legal rights and options, as they are familiar with the nuances of tractor-trailer cases.

For a free case evaluation, reach out to the skilled and compassionate tractor-trailer accident attorneys at Allen & Allen. Call today, at 866-388-1307.