USPS to Test Self-Driving Trucks for Deliveries in the Southwest
Two-Week Autonomous Truck Pilot Program Launched for Postal Service Transport
The U.S. Postal Service announced that it had begun a two-week pilot program testing the safety and efficiency of self-driving long haul trucks across three southwestern states. The autonomous trucks would deliver mail between Phoenix and Dallas, crossing from Arizona to New Mexico to Texas. According to NBC News via a Reuters article, the self-driving vehicles are part of the TuSimple fleet, a start-up based out of San Diego. The company believes that its state-of-the-art technology can move the trucking industry into the next generation.
Truck Driver Shortages, Safety Concerns and Regulatory Limitations
The commercial trucking industry as a whole is facing a crisis – more demand and not enough skilled drivers. According to the Reuters article, the American Trucking Association estimates there could be a driver shortage of nearly 175,000 in the next five years. Safety concerns also grip the large trucking business. A significant amount of trucking fatalities are driver related. Companies such as TuSimple hope that by eliminating driver error, commercial trucking as a whole will be safer for everyone on the road.
The trucking industry is heavily regulated by state and federal agencies. It is unclear how regulatory administrations will react to the implantation of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving passenger vehicles have had a somewhat dubious safety debut on the market making regulatory bodies nervous. The USPS pilot program will avoid known pitfalls for autonomous vehicles such as attempting to drive through congested inner-cities. The TuSimple fleet will be restricted to interstate driving.
An Uncertain Future
Given the severity of trucking accidents, self-driving commercial vehicles will likely be put through rigorous testing before officially hitting U.S. markets. Neither the U.S. Postal Service nor TuSimple has indicated if the test run will result in a full-time route for these autonomous vehicles. It will, however, give industry leaders a chance to see whether self-driving trucks will get deliveries across the country faster and more efficiently. With safety being the primary concern, companies like TuSimple have invested in multi-faceted perception systems capable of making difficult decisions in an instant. Self-driving trucks may save an aging workforce and help to move the industry into the future.
Trucking accidents are complex legal matters. It is unknown whether the use of autonomous vehicles for long haul deliveries will increase safety risks or alleviate them.