Uber’s self-driving semi-truck recently made a 120-mile journey to its destination in Colorado Springs. Before you get too excited, a person was monitoring the situation from the back of the sleeping birth. If an emergency had occurred, it is possible this person could have intervened. Future semi-trucks may follow this model. Volvo is working on similar technology that would allow semi-trucks to operate almost unassisted on most highways. A major benefit of self-driving technology is that it helps prevent human error from causing truck accidents. For example, drowsy commercial truckers who fall asleep and crash into other motorists.
Why Are Drowsy Commercial Truckers a Threat to Public Safety?
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) statistics show 4,000 Americans perish in truck accidents every year. Many of these accidents are caused by drowsy commercial drivers. There are several reasons commercial truckers cause these accidents.
- Violating hours of service rules: Hours of service rules, which cap the number of hours commercial drivers can operate, are supposed to prevent these accidents.
- Untreated sleep apnea: Some commercial drivers may suffer from untreated sleep apnea, a health condition that causes excessive daytime drowsiness. Studies have shown drivers with untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to crash than those who do not have the condition! The FMCSA may require commercial carriers to screen drivers who meet a certain BMI threshold. However, there are other risk-factors for developing this disorder.
- Drug or alcohol use: Drivers may use drugs that causes drowsiness, even those that are legal and purchased over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. They may also drink the night before and reduce their quality of sleep.
Self-driving technology may play a role in preventing these factors from contributing to accidents. The Department of Transportation recently issued policy guidelines for developing self-driving trucks and cars. In fact, the DoT sees this technology as instrumental in reducing the frequency of accidents on U.S. roads.