Risk Insider: Dan Holden

The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

By: | November 4, 2015 • 2 min read

Dan Holden is Manager of Corporate Risk & Insurance for Daimler Trucks North America (formerly “Freightliner”). He manages the risk management program in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He can be reached at [email protected]mler.com.

In 2012 nearly 4,000 people were killed on US roads, and 90% of those fatalities were caused by driver error.

Imagine an advanced autonomous system that could avoid those deadly motor vehicle accidents.  Even a system that works only on the highway – where the technology has already been developed and where trucks spend the majority of their time – can make a significant difference.

If you include the future of autonomous passenger cars on the road, drivers will experience not only improved safety, but eventually will see better fuel economy and more free time.

If you include the future of autonomous passenger cars on the road, drivers will experience not only improved safety, but eventually will see better fuel economy and more free time.

A new report has analyzed the impact of driverless cars on the incidence of fatal traffic accidents, and concluded that by removing human emotions and errors from the equation, we could reduce deaths on the road by 90 percent.

That’s almost 300,000 lives saved each decade in the U.S., and a saving of $190 billion each year in health care costs associated with accidents. If you expand this to global figures, driverless cars are set to save 10 million lives per decade.

There are now some trucks on the road that begin to fulfill that promise. Daimler Trucks North America’s “Inspiration” freightliner semi-truck this year became first legally operated autonomous commercial vehicle operating on U.S. highways.

For now, the “Inspiration” is basically a limited take on autonomy. The driverless system engages when the truck is on the highway and ramps up speed. It then maintains a safe distance from other vehicles and stays in its own lane.

If the truck were to encounter a circumstance it can’t handle (e.g., heavy snow or washed-out lane lines) it will alert the human driver that it’s time for him to take over. But what this technology can do is reduce traffic accidents, and that’s why I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.

A human driver has limited situational awareness. Autonomous vehicles offer an extra set of eyes that continuously monitor a broad range of sensors (e.g., visible and infrared light, acoustic including ultrasound) both passive and active with a nearly 360-degree field of view.

Therefore, driverless vehicles can more quickly determine a safe reaction to potential hazards and initiate reactions faster than a human driver. For example, traffic collisions caused by human driver errors such as tailgating, rubbernecking and other forms of distracted or aggressive driving would be eliminated.

Safer and more efficient driving is the motivating force behind this emerging technology. It’s not about catching 40-winks on the highway or watching an episode of your favorite show. As cool as that might be to imagine, no one is replacing the human as the ultimate decision-maker.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]