Self-Driving HGVs – Are They The Future?


The Road Haulage Association have been issuing warnings about a shortage of HGV drivers for some time.  As the HGV driver shortage seems likely to continue, the question arises – are self-driving HGV’s the future, and can they plug the gap? 

When self-driving HGV trucks were first mentioned many years ago they seemed to be a futuristic fantasy, but this is no longer the case. Self-driving HGVs, also known as autonomous lorries and trucks, are becoming more of a reality.

Some experts are predicting that self-driving vehicles could be on the road within the next decade.

According to the International Road Transport Union, autonomous self-driving vehicles provide a technological solution to the driver shortage crisis and could alleviate the problems in supply chains that we are currently facing.  Early indications suggest that the self-drive industry will see significant growth and investment in the next decade and this will no doubt have an impact the insurance industry.  The insurance industry as a whole need have to formulate insurance policies that provide appropriate cover for the self-drive industry.

Are autonomous trucks and lorries safe?

The complex and extensive technological systems required to operate self-drive HGVs includes a substantial amount of artificial intelligence (AI) and sensing systems, to provide a safe operating environment.  The whole purpose of the self-drive HGV is to function safely without needing a driver, so a lot of time and investment has gone into ensuring they are safe to operate on the road.

Self-drive vehicles have extensive sensors on board, cameras, and radars, all of which feed into the central data system that controls the vehicle.

IEEE Spectrum, the leading engineering magazine, states that HGVs are the ideal vehicles to go autonomous due to their size and height.  Being able to place sensors and cameras off the ground means there is a greater field of vision.

Will self-drive vehicles replace HGV drivers?

The truth is that whilst autonomous vehicles could help plug the gap in HGV driver shortages, they can never replace driver experience and instinct.  Whilst self-drive vehicles might be appropriate for long motorway drives where the routes are fixed, they will struggle to function well on inner city routes. 

Any route that contains elements of uncertainty or volatility will be a problem for a self-drive truck to navigate.  This is where the experience and knowledge of the driver cannot be replaced.

Benefits of using self-drive HGVs

There are many benefits that are fuelling the demand for autonomous vehicles, including better road safety, cost savings, environmental benefits, and increased productivity. 

Self-drive vehicles will facilitate lower driver and transportation costs and possibly less disruption to the industry.  Another key benefit is the reduction of road traffic accidents.  According to the Department for Transport, over 94% of road accidents are due to driver error.  There is a huge case for legislating in favour of self-drive vehicles as they could reduce the number of deaths on our roads.

Transport for London has been developing the Direct Vision Standard which aims to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths involving HGVs.  This program works alongside the Mayor of London’s project Vision Zero that aims to end deaths caused by vehicles on the road by 2041. 

In addition to a reduction in deaths, self-driving vehicles will enable logistics and transportation companies to effectively eliminate off hours, productivity and tap into their latent capacity. 

There will be no requirement for the machines to take rest breaks. Having autonomous vehicles would also have an impact on the environmental footprint of the industry at the same time as slashing costs by up to 40%.

Challenges of having self-driving HGVs

The infrastructure required to ensure self-driving vehicles are operationally safe is quite a way from being finalised.  The technology needs to be developed further before we see fleets of autonomous vehicles being used.

Of course, one of the main challenges to be overcome is the impact on jobs and employment within the industry.  Replacing drivers with autonomous vehicles will also have a ripple effect on surrounding and related industries including petrol stations, restaurants, hotels, and retail.

Self-driving vehicles will require extensive monitoring and checking.  There will also most likely be an impact on the question of liability and safety.  Currently, the rules and legislation make it clear that drivers can be held responsible for accidents.  Citizens and regulators will want to know that the responsibility and liability are clearly defined and allocated when things go wrong. Who would be responsible if an autonomous vehicle crashed?  The owner, manufacturer, the software company?  All of them?  These questions need to be addressed fully before autonomous vehicles are unleashed on public roads.

Conclusion

Whilst self-driving vehicles will completely change the HGV industry and landscape, the development of the infrastructure and technology still has a long way to go.  In the future, it is likely that legislators, technology companies and logistics companies will build partnerships to work together to create sustainable and safe self-driving vehicles.

HGV Insurance

Heavy goods vehicles need comprehensive insurance to ensure the vehicle is protected alongside the driver and the goods carried by the vehicle. Depending on the business you work for, you may need a non-standard and bespoke insurance policy.  As an employee your insurance will be paid by the company you work for. 

ISIS Insurance offers a wide variety of insurance options and quotes that cover everything a HGV might need when it comes to insurance, from skip lorries to refrigerated vehicles.