Like most places, Edmonds relies on big commercial trucks using our city streets, state highways and nearby interstates to bring in much of the food, clothing, furniture, appliances, household goods, electronics and all of the rest that our residents and businesses want and need.
The true cost of all of those items is greater than the prices reflected on credit card statements, however. The true cost to Edmonds – and cities across Western Washington and the U.S. – includes the pain and grief caused by truck accidents that result in catastrophic injuries and fatalities.
Accepting a grim toll
“We’ve accepted — because we have no alternative — the level of death and destruction that occurs on the roads today,” said Ariel Wolf, general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition. “It’s just something we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s not just the 36,000, 37,000 deaths; it’s the 4 million injuries. People walk away with lifetime permanent injuries.”
The Self-Driving Coalition is a group of companies that includes Ford, Volvo, Uber, Lyft and Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent Alphabet) in pursuit of lucrative technology that will make cars and trucks autonomous.
You’ve likely read at least a little about the development of self-driving cars, but it’s less well-known that the same type of tech is being tested to pilot 80,000-lb. tractor-trailers on America’s highways.
Moving the needle
In fact, Kodiak Robotics, a Self-Driving Coalition member focused on autonomous tech for long-haul trucking, has moved the needle on self-driving 18-wheelers.
“We deliver freight every day for customers — real paying customers. That’s really exciting,” said Daniel Goff, head of policy for Kodiak. “People don’t necessarily realize that their latest iPhone might have been delivered by an autonomous truck.”
You can watch a dashcam video on Kodiak’s website of one of their self-driving trucks making the daily 829-mile trips between Houston and Dallas on Interstate 45. Their trucks stay in the right lane until they have to move over to allow cars and trucks to merge onto the highway.
Does the technology make us safer?
“People just end up jumping to the question: Is the technology safe or not? I think we know the technology will make the roads safer,” Goff told a truck industry publication. He stresses that given the current carnage caused by human error, we have to ask ourselves, “will the deployment of this technology make us safer, more mobile, more efficient going forward? I think the answer is a clear ‘yes’ when it’s framed that way.”
Kodiak says its self-driving trucks all include human monitors there to take over in cases of emergencies and to get the big rigs safely in and out of pick-up and drop-off spots.
Kodiak and other trucking industry stakeholders see enormous financial gains in self-driving commercial trucks: dramatically shortened hauling times, no more fatigued drivers, improved fuel efficiency – and they hope, no more personal injury lawsuits filed by the victims or victims’ families after 18-wheelers collide with cars.