Dim initial view of driverless trucks

Dec. 1, 2014

As the trucking industry begins to experiment with driverless vehicle technology, public opinion on the subject is also being ascertained – and the initial reports, at least, aren’t coming up roses for the concept of pilotless big rigs.

Forrest Burnson, a market research associate with consulting firm Software Advice, pointed out that a recent survey his company conducted among 385 U.S. adult drivers found that sharing the road with “driverless trucks” is not a welcome idea at all. To wit:

  • Over two-thirds of the respondents polled by the firm said they would feel “less safe” sharing the road with driverless semi-trucks, while 56% believed driverless cars would be “less safe.”
  • Women were more likely than men to think that vehicles piloted by driverless technology would be less safe than vehicles operated by human beings.
  • The majority of respondents would be uncomfortable with driverless semi-trucks, even if it meant cheaper consumer products or reduced carbon emissions.

Such attitudes toward the safety of driverless technology poses quite a problem for truck makers and carriers alike as a whole, though not an insurmountable one, noted Alberto Broggi, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy who specializes in driverless vehicle technology research.

“The only thing [manufacturers could do] would be to demonstrate a lower probability of accidents,” he said. “But this is the usual problem, and it is very difficult to achieve, since an accident is not a frequent event [and] it will take years of widespread use of driverless technology to collect meaningful data on accident rates.”

Just shows that we’ve got a ways to go before the public gets comfortable with the idea of driverless trucks.

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