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If ongoing research by Tesla proves fruitful, a fully autonomous truck is on the horizon. Autonomous-or self-driving-trucks would initially be using a system known as, "platoons", where a series of driverless vehicles follow a lead vehicle. The December 2016 ATRInsider newsletter, published by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), states that autonomous vehicles could potentially have "significant safety and productivity benefits", and would address issues related to driver shortages.
Motor Trend reports that a successful autonomous platoon trip, known as a "road train", has already been completed in Barcelona, Spain. In this case, the road train used an active driver in a heavy-duty truck, followed by several autonomous vehicles. In Colorado, Uber's OTTO self-driving truck was successfully tested in October, 2016 in a "beer run"; hauling Budweiser products over 100 miles. Its human driver remained in the sleeper while the truck travelled down the highway.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, over one-quarter of all work-related deaths in the US were due to roadway incidents. Autonomous trucks may be used to keep products moving across the roadways while tractor drivers sleep; making a long haul more efficient and allowing the driver to receive proper rest.
The use of autonomous vehicles may eventually reduce the need for professional truckers. In an article published by Reuters, the Teamsters Union fought recent efforts to speed up research on self-driving technology. As a result, the legislation excludes commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds. In a statement, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa says,"...it is vital that Congress ensure that any new technology is used to make transportation safer and more effective, not used to put workers at risk on the job or destroy livelihoods and chip away at the middle class.”
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