Autonomous Platooning: Is It Safer to Be an Early Adopter or to Wait?

Self-driving semi trucks are a hotly debated topic. One of the key considerations, if not the primary focus of debate, is the profitability. Autonomous trucks are expensive and they have a lot of room for improvement. But they will soon require less and less human oversight. Human drivers are expensive: not only do they require wages and health insurance, they can make costly mistakes after long hours of driving or at night.

But the argument for self-driving passenger vehicles is more about safety. Passenger cars get in a lot of preventable accidents. Commuters and shoppers tend to make a lot of errors and get distracted easily. A lot of the conditions that cause accidents, like sudden changes, rush hour, and frustration, would start to disappear the fewer human drivers there are. This same safety consideration is a secondary issue when it comes to self-driving semi trucks.

When are autonomous trucks uniquely safe?

While both commercial and passenger vehicles drive on the same roads and face a lot of the same hazards. But semi trucks face a few unique conditions that even the most avid road tripper won’t. One of these occasions is platooning. When semi trucks operate in isolation, a lot of the safety and practicality problems still apply. But when you have three or more trucks going in the same direction, platooning is safer when it’s autonomous. Self-driving cars can:

  • stay in constant wireless communication to coordinate slows and stops.
  • can drive in a closer configuration that reduces air resistance and drag.
  • use fewer human drivers. Once you have a reliable autonomous platoon, and as long as state laws allow for it, you just need a driver at the front and maybe the tail.

This technology is available and being implemented now. While it’s still new and the risks are hard to fully quantify, better platooning is one of the biggest advantages to autonomous trucks. It’s safer, more efficient, and each truck carries a smaller liability than if the trucks were operating in isolation. Whether it’s worth early adoption, on balance, is up to your specific company. Go to J.E.B. Insurance Services, LLC for more insight into the changing liabilities in the trucking industry and to learn more about the coverage your company needs. We provide commercial truck insurance in the states of Florida, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

David Ott

David Ott