In 2017, the United States trucking business generated $700 billion, more than the entire GDP of several nations. This incredibly profitable industry is integral to shipping goods to retail stores, including grocery stores, home goods and other staples of American life.

The trucking industry continually seeks to improve its bottom line, investing in technology that can reduce maintenance, overhead and liability. One of those technologies is self-driving trucks.

The Indiana Department of Transportation helps with testing

Indiana roadways will soon see tests for these automated trucks. With a $9 million grant partially funded by the federal government, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) explores the possibilities of an automated truck industry.

To many people, driverless cars seem inevitable, especially considering how cost-effective automated vehicles could be for trucking companies. These potential savings motivate researchers to begin testing in earnest.

All trials for this initial test will feature manned vehicles. The federal grant provides funding to figure out what kind of infrastructure automated trucks require and how these vehicles respond in a variety of road conditions. Scott Manning, strategic communications director at INDOT, said that Interstate 70 presents the “ideal place to test a lot of automotive… technology because we have four very distinct seasons.”

These tests mirror similar programs across the country. In Virginia, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute works with state officials to create Virginia Automated Corridors for testing autonomous vehicles. Michigan, a leader in the auto world, has been testing automated vehicles for years. Many other states have laws allowing these vehicles on their roads already.

Despite advancements, many people do not believe automated trucks will work. Andrew Denslow, a truck driver, doubts the decision-making ability of machines when an 80,000-lb payload begins to swerve on the road. Cindy Kaps, a trucking veteran of 33 years, does not believe the software will respond to dangerous situations responsibly, like when a deer jumps out in front of a truck: “[A driverless truck] is going to try to stop and it’s going to cause an accident.”

A complicated legal landscape

The law will also need to catch up with technology. How will a court find fault in a car accident involving an automated vehicle? Who will prosecutors charge in cases involving criminal violations? Whatever laws legislators pass to protect their constituents, victims in these accidents will need vigorous representation from a lawyer familiar with motor vehicle accidents.