In 2024, various corporations are set to deploy driverless tractor-trailers on Texas highways, specifically on the I-45 stretch connecting Dallas and Houston. Attorney Amy Witherite, a renowned trucking safety specialist, raises alarms about the potential dangers these 80,000-pound autonomous vehicles could pose, especially to first responders.
The American Automobile Association highlights a disturbing statistic: annually, approximately 23 roadside workers and first responders lose their lives at the roadside – a tragic event every two weeks – and countless others sustain injuries while attending to disabled vehicles.
A particular incident involving a Tesla in California, cited by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), underlines the hazards. The Tesla failed to react appropriately to a fire apparatus and police cruiser, both with activated emergency lights, blocking an accident scene. The NTSB report details how the Tesla, following a vehicle that switched lanes to avoid a fire truck, remained in its lane, accelerated, and collided with the fire truck’s rear at about 31 mph. The NTSB concluded that the Tesla driver’s inattention and over-dependence on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system were the primary causes of this rear-end crash in Culver City, California.
Witherite expresses grave concerns: “Imagine the tremendous damage an 80,000-pound autonomous truck would have caused in this same situation. Automation is crucial and can enhance driving safety, but it’s worth questioning whether it’s currently safe to deploy fully automated trucks.”
California is not alone in grappling with these challenges. Reports from the Austin Monitor reveal that in Austin, Cruise cars, another autonomous vehicle model, have exhibited risky behaviors. They’ve come dangerously close to parked fire trucks, disregarded police traffic directions, and in one instance, nearly obstructed an ambulance en route to an emergency. Additionally, there were instances where Cruise employees struggled to relocate their malfunctioning vehicles, impeding traffic flow.
The results of AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey indicate a growing skepticism towards fully autonomous vehicles. The survey shows a significant rise in apprehension, with 68% of drivers expressing fear in 2024, a notable increase from 55% in 2022. This 13% spike is the largest since 2020, reflecting a shift in public sentiment towards these technologies.
Witherite concludes with a compelling statement: “We owe it to those who risk their lives for our safety to ensure that fully automated vehicles do not exacerbate the already high risks associated with working accident scenes on our state’s highways.” This sentiment underscores the need for careful consideration and regulation of autonomous vehicle deployment, particularly in scenarios involving emergency responders.