Autonomous technology undergoes testing at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. - Photo: Screen capture from VTTI video

Autonomous technology undergoes testing at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Photo: Screen capture from VTTI video

According to safety experts, more than 90% of motor vehicle crashes involve driver error, and many believe that replacing drivers with automation could significantly reduce the number of crashes. But one safety expert believes major challenges must be addressed before driverless motor vehicles will be ready and accepted by the public for widespread use.

There are already dozens of driverless trucks operating on interstate highways (with safety drivers), in pilot programs, undergoing testing, and even hauling freight for customers. The technology certainly appears to work. Does that mean they are ready for prime time?

Christopher Hart doesn’t think so. He’s a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and he has been studying and observing automation in transportation for years. He’s still uneasy about sharing the road with driverless vehicles.

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In a recent blog post for the National Academies of Science, Hart brought his knowledge of aviation automation to bear on the question. HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park talked to Hart for the HDT Talks Trucking podcast, “Is the Real World Ready for Driverless Trucks?”

It’s not that Hart is an automation naysayer. In fact, he calls himself a “gadget geek.”

“In the U.S. alone, we lose more than 100 people every day on the highways,” he says. “And I think that automation could significantly reduce that number… But the caution is we need to not do it until we're really ready to go.”

What will an autonomous car do, for instance, when encountering a double-parked delivery truck, he asks. Will it violate the law and cross the yellow line to go around the truck? Or what about a construction zone with a worker signaling drivers to stop or slow depending on the circumstances?

Hear more about Hart’s thoughts on topics such as how aviation automation compares to motor-vehicle automation, what the “Miracle on the Hudson” tells us about the challenges of autonomous technologies, training artificial intelligence, public acceptance of driverless vehicles, ethics, the federal government’s role, and more. Check out HDT Talks Trucking on your favorite podcast platform or listen below:

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