Ever since automobiles came into widespread use, people have been dreaming of a future in which vehicles drove themselves, freeing up the driver to engage in leisure on the road and removing the dangers associated with human error and poor judgment. While this has long been the dream, serious attempts at creating autonomous vehicles have only been around for about a decade.

Although everyone would conceivably benefit from the use of self-driving cars, one of the most exciting applications of the technology would be in semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles. On average, truck accidents kill more than 4,000 people per year on U.S. roads and injure countless more. Many of these accidents are caused by truck driver error, negligence, vehicle maintenance issues and work demands that are seemingly in conflict with human health (constantly changing sleep schedule, a very sedentary lifestyle, etc.).

The use of self-driving trucks could be especially beneficial in places like South Dakota and Wyoming, where there is a lot of open road to cover and many goods and raw materials that need to be transported.

When can we expect autonomous trucks?

In the mid-2010s, it was widely estimated that self-driving cars were just five or six years away. But that deadline has almost arrived, and many overly optimistic predictions have been revised. It could be several more years before self-driving cars/trucks are ready for significant road testing. Next will likely come a period in which the technology improves but still relies on drivers to take over in an emergency. Finally, perhaps decades from now, fully autonomous vehicles without drivers could become the norm.

Technology still cannot replace human judgment

Self-driving tech does certain things much better than humans can. For instance, many prototypes are equipped with multiple information systems like radar, GPS and sensors that can measure proximity to other vehicles/objects and respond accordingly.

What technology cannot do yet, however, is make judgment calls in cases where the best course of action isn’t obvious. Nor can it always predict the actions of human drivers. It is unclear if these problems can be solved and, if so, how quickly.

Holding trucking companies and drivers liable for accidents

If and when self-driving trucks become a reality, they will hopefully result in a significant decline in truck accidents. For the foreseeable future, however, trucks will still be driven by human drivers, who make mistakes and bad choices. When those errors cause an injurious or fatal truck accident, it is important for victims to pursue appropriate compensation from the at-fault parties, including truck drivers and their employers.