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Self-driving trucks: A new day for technology and personal injury

New Jersey highways are some of the most congested on the East Coast, laden with trucks and trailers pulling all forms of cargo to and from ports, farms, warehouses and retailers. Drivers may soon have to contend with a new type of truck, one that is autonomous.

Several manufacturers are now in competition to be the first to bring autonomous trucks to the market. However, in a workshop involving members of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a number of stakeholders emphasized the importance of continued human control over any autonomous tractor-trailers.

While self-driving cars have been tested for some time, the technology is still in its infancy and has yet to be adapted to the size of today's tractor-trailers. In addition, the ethical issues of this robotics technology and the choices of an autonomous vehicle in a crisis situation remain popular topics for debate.

In the hearing, however, autonomous driving technology was framed more in terms of driver assistance than full robotic autonomy. There are also implications, however, for how hours of service will be calculated when drivers are operating one of these highly automated vehicles. Current restrictions on the number of hours that truckers can drive at a time could be raised in an autonomous vehicle, which once again gives rise to concerns about trucker fatigue and its impact on road safety and performance.

Autonomous vehicles could have a wide impact on the safety of occupants of other vehicles. While autonomous tractor-trailers could seemingly correct for bad judgment on the road, they could also pose new safety questions related to driver choice or truck driver fatigue after many hours on the road. No technology is perfect, however, and if and when an autonomous truck causes a collision due to a glitch, attorneys representing injured victims may add the manufacturer to the list of defendants in a personal injury lawsuit.

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