Talking Trucks Tuesday: How Autonomous Should Trucks Be?

TTT 11-29

By G.R. Whale

There's plenty of talk lately about autonomous cars and driving, most of which includes some significant "buts," such as the technology exists but the infrastructure doesn't or it can be done but only on the highways. In September the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. It adopted SAE International's six self-driving categories:

  • Level Zero: Humans do all the driving
  • Level 1: Vehicle systems provide some assistance with some parts of driving tasks
  • Level 2: An automated system conducts some parts of a driving task and the human monitors the driving environment and performs the rest
  • Level 3: An automated system conducts parts of a driving task and monitors the driving environment in some circumstances with the human driver ready to take control when the automated system requests it
  • Level 4: An automated system conducts a driving task and monitors the driving environment in certain conditions without human input
  • Level 5: An automated system performs all driving tasks under all conditions just as a human driver could

And that's not all folks. Freightliner has been experimenting with autonomous big-rig commercial trucks. These vehicles use several front stereo and side cameras with forward-looking radar when the driver engages an "auto-pilot" setting. In that mode the driver monitors the driving environment but does not need to control steering, brakes, throttle or navigation.

Today we're still in the lower levels with passenger vehicles, where a human behind the wheel is still required. And humans have proven they're nowhere near perfect when driving without safety features on a car. Despite more vehicles with autonomous features, some key accident rates are now rising after years of decline.

Who thought it was a good idea to provide an inattentive driver with even more impetus to be more inattentive?

When pickup trucks can drive themselves, do business owners place material orders online and send the truck to pick them up the goods while they keep working? What if the pickup gets carjacked or hit while it's out, or someone just tries to hitch a ride? When you're driving down the highway in your classic pickup, how much space will you give to an autonomous vehicle operated by an automatic transmission and cruise control?

Do you think "semiautonomous" vehicles are good, good only for those who can't drive or should the human driver be completely removed from any vehicle that can operate without one? Let us know in the comments section below. graphic by Paul Dolan; manufacturer image


Level 1, lane change warning and coming up fast behind another vehicle are great. That's about it...

Level 0! I want to do all the driving, if you can't see someone in front, behind or next to you you shouldn't be driving! How lazy do people have to get?

level 0

LEVEL 5. Most truck accidents are caused by driver (human) error.

Level 0

I think it's great we have choices. I want level 0 or 1. But i'm ok if people want level 5. What I hear about the tesla sounds pretty cool and useful, but I don't want it in my daily driver. Someday that may change.

Same story with the level of refinement in your vehicle. A lot of people complain about all the extra expensive features in vehicles today that they don't need. It's like they don't realize you can still go out and buy a base model regular cab 2wd truck with very few features if you really want that. Choice is a good thing.

Well ideally people wouldn't mess up... but they do. And machines would be ready to take over and make far fewer mistakes... but they aren't ready for that... We are probably in the Level 1 or 2 stage heading into 3 (I know 3, 4, and 5 have been demonstrated) right now.

Just wait until a vehicle equipped/capable of level 4 or 5 is being operated (by the operators choice) in level 0 or 1, or 2 and he or she has a fatal accident. The civil liability will be insane and if rules come about limiting human driving involvement look for criminal charges as well.

Its the future folks no way around that.

I don't think I can trust a fully autonomous vehicle right now, especially when I see all the recalls they're having on old technology these days such as brakes, alternators, ignition switches, air bags, and just recently fuel guages. Lol

Start with level 1. You need to gently bring in this technology and prove it out. Accidents and accident related deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. People are not paying attention to the road but rather to their devices. The other solution is to ban usage of devices on the road period. I believe Canada already does this and it works well.

They should have recalls on people, since its almost always drivr error in accidents, these new machine learning vehicles should help cut back on the errors, as long as the machines dont road rage and we end up in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Level 5 for any FCA product since the owner has already shown poor judgement and can't be trusted to drive let alone control normal bodily functions.

0 to 1 : When you are talking allowing the computer to drive a 120,000 pound vehicle without human interaction that would be insane. A personal computer has frequent glitches, a glitch with 120,000 pounds moving at 65 mph would cost lives. Anything like this is way too premature.

Well Ford has demonstrated that even at level 1 they can't even get that right (remember the recall for F-150s detecting transport trucks and brake checking people on the highway), so I think Ford should be Level 0.

My career was image analysis and remote sensing.

Levels 4 and 5 will not be reliably doable until about 2030 or beyond. The number and type of sensors would need to increase greatly, and be almost weather independent; we would need to employ GPS location driving and inter-vehicle communication; and current computing power and speeds are hugely insufficient.

So, it'll be a while before you can read a good book or take a nap on the way to grandma's house...


Driver error is the number 1 cause of wrecks. especially when big rigs are involved.

Still doesn't mean auto vehicles will stop accidents. To the contrary I have not been involved in any accidents. Human mind is better at stopping accidents that the auto vehicles will wreck in.

Hell, I can't even trust my PC when it crashes :-)

So yeah, for now or until technology is more reliable & full proof; Level 0 to 1 is safest for all concerned...

It will never work. Who will chain up a big rig and drive through mountain passes at 25 mph or less? The sensors will be covered in ice and snow and be useless or worse interfere with human operation.

@Don E: Right on! The sensors will be covered and a human driver will have to take over. The human, rusty from less driving will therefore have a greater chance of getting into an accident. So, where's the gain?

Level 0 for me.

Driver error is the number 1 cause of wrecks. especially when big rigs are involved.

Posted by: terry |

Thats where proper driver education comes in and driving hours are strictly enforced..also no dopeheads or boozers should ever be hired to drive comercial rigs..
Cruise control and automatic trannys would be some good options trucks should have to take a load of tedious long hauls preventing drivers to get tired..
The other safety sensors,cameras computers etc,would be ok to watch over and alarm the driver if theres danger,but driver should always stay in control.

I was visiting Nihon while back and the laws against drinking and driving are very strict with huge fines,,think 10.000$,,,loss of driving license and even prison time..
Should you happen to visit dont even think about bringing drugs

What amazed me even more was the bullet trains that have perfect safety record over 40 years running,,and those do 300 km/hour on regular basis,
pretty sure no drunks driving those things
Maybe we could all learn from such advanced countries,

Level 1. I'm all in for safety. Level 1 has been around for 25 years plus in the forms of antilock brakes and traction control. I remember people complaining about those systems when they first arrived but who complains now, I sure don't. Emergency braking sounds fine to me and can really become a lifesaver considering all the distractions there are in peoples lives. Lane change assist or warning is also great, like me.

All of you PUTC Ford nutswingers need to stay off the TFL comments section!

You will give up autonomy with autonomy. Do not give up your freedom in exchange for safety. This is life, and real living is more important than safety. Do not fall for it.

You guys do understand that if full autonomy is in force, pickups will be illegal right? They will force manually driven vehicles off the road with the excuse of "needing" 70 mph cross-flow intersections. If you need something big moved, you will have to hop in an autonomous jelly-bean-looking car and follow the autonomous cargo vehicle you summoned.

LEVEL 5. Most truck accidents are caused by driver (human) error.
Posted by: nperry | Nov 29, 2016 11:11:32 AM

It is obvious you are a lawyer or working for one - thus you are marketing to find clients. However NHTSA - National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey indicates otherwise

‘The purpose of this report is to describe the events and factors leading up to a crash, based on recent snapshots of data collected in NMVCCS. Of particular interest are the statistics related to the driver, vehicle, roadway, and environment that often play a role in the crash.’

something something keep da gubbmint outta mah truhhhhks

Levels 3 and up will not be viable until all cars are equally equipped and their use enforced. Until then, Levels 3 and 4 can be bullied by manually-driven vehicles to the point they can be more annoyance than helpful. Personally, I look forward to the day when vehicles can handle the rigors of day-to-day driving and they'll certainly make long-distance driving easier on the operator (albeit they're already proving enablers to irresponsible habits like sleeping or watching videos behind the wheel, both of which are illegal under current laws.

That said, the potential for 18-wheelers to be safer is great; then again, using those sensors in a passive manner to allow the driver to know what's going on in his blind spots would be extremely helpful... albeit adding more workload as they would now have more displays or other indicators to monitor.

Otto Budweiser truck made first delivery in Oct 2016.

Level 0-1 forever. Im against autonomy, because it will destroy humanity.

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