Elon Musk stayed true to his word on November 16th; unveiling the first fully electric semi-truck that also comes equipped with Tesla’s semiautonomous technology in addition to automatic braking and lane departure warnings. In Mr. Musk’s own words, the truck offers a “massive increase in safety.”
Powerful words, considering that each year there are 4,000 people in the U.S. who die in truck-related collisions. While no one doubts the need for increased safety when it comes to the hundreds of thousands of trucks that travel our nation’s highways, but is a new breed of vehicle the cure or will it only bring its own particular problems?
I believe strongly that much of the technology in this truck will save lives. I’m a huge proponent of automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping technology that will be in this truck. And, if the touted anti-jackknifing technology works, it could change the industry.
The new electric trucks have a purported 500-mile limit of a fully charged vehicle is enough to complete most hauls. As long as there is a human driver behind the wheel, this is not a problem since it’s certainly time for a break after 500 miles.
Some major players believe in this truck-Mart Stores, Inc. committed to buying a number of vehicles. “We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions,” commented the retailer giant in an official statement.
Right now, the air is “electric” with hopeful anticipation, but there are many aspects that arise with such a fundamental change to our commerce model that many futurists have yet to tackle. One concern is how this will affect the current (and future) truck driver workforce. Part of the push for this truck is to use it in a self-driving platoon, where there is a human driver in a lead truck and several driverless trucks following behind.
There have been proposals for certain stretches of highway having dedicated truck lanes (DTLs) specifically for self-driving and platooning trucks. Two unanswered questions about dedicated truck lanes are will this be effective in preventing collisions and who will pay for their construction? And the real elephant in the room is that of liability. Who will be responsible when there is a collision? I touched on all these topics in a recent blog; and they’re questions that deserve well thought-out answers before we begin introducing these new vehicles onto our roadways en masse.
There’s no doubt that technology save lives. If Mr. Musk’s new trucks deliver on their safety promises, Tesla trucks will be a huge benefit for safety on our roads. The fact is that human drivers get fatigued. Human drivers get distracted. It is reassuring to know that–through automatic emergency braking systems–a computer is monitoring to help warn and brake a truck before a collision, whether the truck is powered by electricity or internal combustion. The big question is whether we as a society want this to progress to the point of fully self-driving trucks or driver-less trailing trucks in a platoon.
Put the electric Tesla truck on the road now, but let’s have further discussions and safety assurances before the trucks start platooning or driving themselves.
Michael Leizerman is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He authored West’s three-volume legal treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Associates by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.
Michael Jay Leizerman is the managing partner at EJ Leizerman & Associates, LLC, Toledo, OH. He is a frequent lecturer who teaches other attorneys how to handle truck accident cases across the country.