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Fleets Welcome Safety Benefits of Automation but Don’t Expect to See Driverless Trucks Soon

This story appears in the June 12 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Truck makers, technology developers and regulators are paving the way for self-driving commercial vehicles, but the future of the industry ultimately will be shaped by fleets and the extent to which they adopt automated driving capabilities.

Executives at several of the largest fleets in North America offered a range of views.

Most said they believed that the industry and society aren’t ready for unmanned, fully autonomous trucks or that they won’t be available anytime soon, but they welcomed the safety and productivity gains promised by systems designed to assist rather than replace the driver.

“The new driver-assist technology is radically transforming the trucking industry. We can see on the horizon where major accidents and fatalities will be the exception rather than the rule,” said Kerry Stritt, vice president of fleet services for Southeastern Freight Lines, a carrier based in Lexington, S.C.

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Ryder System’s early experience shows driver-­assist and autonomous-vehicle technology will make the industry safer and more efficient, said Scott Perry, chief technology and procurement officer for Ryder’s global fleet management solutions.

“Within the next 10 years, we will likely see incremental adoption of autonomous features,” he said. “Beyond 10 years, the spectrum of possibilities is wide open.”

However, product validation still will be required, and federal standards related to the technology are needed, Perry added.

Fleets said they are particularly interested in highway autopilot systems, which would enable a self-driving mode while still keeping a driver in the cab.

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By Mindy Long
Contributing Writer


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