Self-driving semis: Coming soon to a highway near you?

Whether you call them semis, tractor-trailers, big rigs or 18-wheelers, one thing is clear: big trucks are dangerous. Each year, thousands of people are killed and many more are injured in large truck accidents on U.S. roads, many of them right here in Illinois. Often, semi accidents are the result of errors by the drivers of these large and dangerous vehicles: they get distracted, nod off, drive too fast or follow too close.

Increasingly, computers are stepping in to prevent these and other errors that can lead to truck accidents. Computerized systems like speed governors, hands-free navigation systems, lane departure warnings and automatic braking systems are becoming more and more widespread in an effort to make semis as safe as possible. Soon, this computerization may become so widespread that truckers will take a back seat, so to speak, and leave the driving to the truck itself.

The future of autonomous vehicles in Illinois and beyond

While the idea of an autonomously driven big rig may sound farfetched, in truth it is not; prototypes of self-driving semis are already being produced and are licensed to drive in Nevada. Although Illinois has yet to allow any type of autonomous vehicles on its public roads, let alone commercial trucks, that day may not be as far off as it seems. A handful of states have already enacted legislation on autonomous vehicles, and it appears that more are likely to follow suit in coming years.

Six states introduced legislation on driverless cars in 2012, and the number has been rising ever since; nine states and D.C. considered proposals in 2013, and 12 states did so in 2014. The upward trend has continued into 2015, with lawmakers in 16 states introducing legislation on the matter of autonomous vehicles - and Illinois was among them.

The Illinois driverless car bill, which has passed the House of Representatives but is still pending before the Senate, would add a chapter on autonomous vehicles to the Illinois Vehicle Code. If passed, the legislation would permit autonomous vehicles to be operated on public roads for testing purposes only, and would bar their use for other purposes without specific approval from the secretary of state.

Protecting your interests after a truck crash

It remains to be seen just how the trend toward increasing automation will affect the trucking industry, and driving in general. Although greater automation has potential to increase safety, it may introduce other problems - or amplify those that already exist - such as decreased driver vigilance and accidents caused by vehicle malfunctions.

For the time being, at least, drivers themselves are still the ones primarily responsible for operating their vehicles in a manner that is safe for everyone around them. Truckers and trucking companies can be held legally and financially liable for any harm they cause when unsafe driving practices lead to accidents.

If you or someone in your family has been hurt in a trucking accident in Illinois, you may have the opportunity to recover compensation for your monetary and non-monetary losses. It is in your best interest to talk things over with an experienced personal injury lawyer at your earliest opportunity. Contact the law firm of Pfaff, Gill & Ports, Ltd., for a free consultation.