ATRI’s new report identifies autonomous vehicle impacts on the USA’s trucking industry


The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released its report identifying potential impacts of autonomous vehicle technology on the trucking industry, which include significant safety and productivity benefits that may result from self-driving technology adoption.

ATRI is the trucking industry’s not-for-profit research organization, which is engaged in critical studies relating to freight transportation’s essential role in maintaining a safe, secure and efficient transportation system in the USA. The new study was identified as the top research priority for the industry by ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee earlier this year. The analysis mapped potential autonomous vehicle impacts to the trucking industry’s top 10 issues, as surveyed annually by ATRI. From hours-of-service, to the country’s driver shortage, to driver health and wellness, benefits and challenges to commercial drivers and motor carriers were identified across the top 10 issues. As an example, ATRI identified numerous changes to the hours-of-service regulations and the ELD (Electronic Logging Device) mandate that would allow commercial drivers to improve safety and productivity through autonomous vehicle operation.

The report finds the two critical positives for the adoption of autonomous technologies are productivity and safety. With changes to the FMCSRs (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations), particularly though an adaptation of the hours-of-service for autonomous truck users, there is the potential that individual over-the-road drivers will be able to operate in what is essentially a team environment. The systems will operate the vehicle during interstate travel while the driver rests, and the driver will take over on secondary roadways. The elimination of human error-related crashes also has the potential to save the industry billions of dollars annually. These improvements, however, will require federal leadership and significant input from the trucking industry. ATRI’s research also documents a number of potential public sector impediments to autonomous truck deployment, including poor infrastructure quality, uncertainties related to tort law, and the possible need for federal preemption.

The study concludes that autonomous truck technology is on a course that will fundamentally change the trucking industry, and may prove to be as momentous as the building of the Interstate system and deregulation. For carriers there are still many unknowns, particularly the return-on-investment (ROI), with only an approximation of what the current ‘demonstration’ systems cost. As the technology is in a pre-deployment stage of development, and with no clear price points, it is difficult to assess value to autonomous trucks. However, the industry understands that whatever the initial price is, per-unit technology costs do tend to decrease with widespread adoption.

“ATRI’s research underscores how critical it is that the trucking industry has a seat at the table as autonomous vehicle issues are debated,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “These impacts will be real and have significant consequences for the entire supply chain if they are not deliberately and thoughtfully approached with input from all stakeholders. Now is the time to make sure that autonomous vehicle technology is a win-win for the economy.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).