Accepting that no one is to blame could be hard pill for public to swallow

While I was at Omnitracs Outlook 2017 in Phoenix recently, I was part of a media luncheon that included a handful of representatives from US media outlets – I was the lone Canadian at the table – and various executives from Omnitracs, including CEO John Graham.

Graham had opened the conference a day prior with the resounding theme of moving forward, embracing new technologies, and even welcoming futurist Jim Carroll to place an exclamation point on the topic.

During the lunch, we discussed several technology-driven topics, including the notion that perhaps the idea of autonomous trucks – which was one of the most talked about subjects during the three-day conference – has been overhyped; a question Graham posed to the table.

No one denies that autonomous trucks are coming. Where people tend to differ is when it comes to timing.

Some good points were raised during the lunch when it comes to timing and what could get in the way of autonomous trucks hitting the road sooner rather than later.

Government regulation was one, as was the extent to which autonomous trucks would be used. Are they really going to be able to travel down any and all roadways in North America, or will they be limited to certain primary networks?

But what about public acceptance?

According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 3,287 people die every day as a result of road collisions, and in the US, 37,000 people die each year, with an additional 2.35 million injured or disabled. In Canada, there were 1,834 motor vehicle fatalities in 2014, according to Transport Canada. Road collisions rank as the ninth leading cause of deaths globally, and it is estimated that it could be the leading cause by 2030. These collisions cost US$518 billion annually.

So, if there are 1,440 minutes per day, which there are, that’s 2.3 people who die every minute as a result of a vehicle collision. Needless to say, as you are reading this column, someone, somewhere, died in a car accident…more than one person in fact.

I say all of this for one reason: the public tends to accept the fact that accidents happen, and people die as a result of those accidents. And why are they accepted? Because human error is acceptable, and when an accident happens, it’s easy to place blame on one or more human beings who were responsible, and say, ‘It was their fault.’

But what about when an accident happens and it involves an autonomous truck, and ‘it’ is to blame?

If someone dies as a result of this collision, it will not be quite as easy for the public to accept. There will be no person they will be able to point the finger at and say, ‘It was his/her fault.’ Instead, there will have to be some kind of inquiry to determine what went wrong, and in many occasions there will be no one or two people who will be responsible for the accident. It would be a technology glitch, having to do with the vehicle itself, GPS co-ordinates, or software…who knows? Which is exactly the point…who knows?

This new reality will be much more difficult for the public to get used to. When a person dies in a car accident, someone must be held accountable.

Granted, I do believe with autonomous vehicle technology, collisions will drop drastically. I would go so far as to say they will be almost non-existent. Hence, the push from many to get autonomous vehicles on the road.

But when something does happen, the ramifications will be much more severe.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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