Liability in Fatal Big Rig Semi Truck Accidents: Self-Driving Trucks

Liability in Fatal Big Rig Semi Truck Accidents: Self-Driving Trucks

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 14 Million licensed truck drivers are on the job in the United States, driving their huge trucks and moving their cargo loads over roads and highways in Indiana, Illinois, and the rest of the country at all times of the day and night, every day of the year (actual number per BLS: 13,828,000 truckers in August 2013).

While goods and freight do get moved in the U.S. marketplace via planes, trains, and boats, it is the commercial semi truck, the 18 wheeler that is responsible for moving over 80% of all U.S. freight transportation in our country. Our economy relies upon the big rig semi truck and the professional truck driver.



Which means that not only do we all depend upon the trucking industry; we all share the road with these heavy (80,000 lbs or more) commercial rigs as we go about our day or when we travel for business or vacation. Anyone driving along Borman Expressway knows how much everyday driving involves sharing lanes with big rig semi tractor trailer trucks.

Self-Driving Big Rig Semi Trucks are a Reality on U.S. Roads

Now that the announcement has been made that the State of Nevada has okayed the new Self-Driving Semi Trucks to ride on Nevada highways, it’s only a matter of time before we start to see these commercial trucks here in our part of the country.

As envisioned by the trucking industry, not only will single semi trucks be able to drive alongside us with the automation operating the big rig while the truck driver is free to do other things, but eventually these new gizmos are projected to allow a single truck driver to move a caravan of self-driving big rig semi trucks down the expressway. One truck driver in this scenario will be moving a line of big rigs down the freeway, all of them connected by the self-driving computer technology.

What does this mean for the safety of those who share the roads with these Self-Driving Trucks?

Well, first of all any personal injury claims resulting from a truck crash may have an injured plaintiff with a harder case to try. Consider how easy the defense will argue that truck driver error is not to blame for a crash. The truck driver’s lawyer as well as the trucking company may both point the finger at the manufacturer of the device, the manufacturer or the truck itself, as well as any company in charge of maintenance and upkeep of the trucks and the technology.

These cases may be more complicated as products liability cases focused upon the product and whether or not it failed rather than negligence cases based upon driver error where the human behind the wheel failed in their duty to drive that truck safely.

Elements of Claim for Victim of Commercial Truck Crash

In all accident cases, damages can be awarded if the plaintiff can prove there was a legal duty to him or her that was breached by the defendant(s) and that this breach of duty was the cause of their harm and injury.

Duty, breach, cause, harm: these are the elements of any truck crash case where someone is seriously injured or killed.

The cause of truck accidents where the Self-Driving Truck is involved may well have the defendants arguing about that “cause” and the trucking company and the truck driver will challenge the product or gizmo as failing and causing the crash.  It was hacked, for instance; there was a communications failure between devices in the caravan; etc. 

What about the driver?  It is foreseeable that the manufacturers of the gizmo (and the truck and those involved in maintenance) will counter that because the truck driver is still in the cab of that truck, and responsible for taking over in case of potential danger where the system sounds an alert or alarm for the human to take the helm, that the driver and driver error will still be the cause of the crash, or a contributing factor to the accident.

Do These Devices Really Address Reasons Behind Truck Driver Error?

Already we know that truck drivers can make mistakes that cause big rig semi truck accidents where all too often, people are seriously injured or die in the accident.  We know that, for instance:

Will the addition of a Self-Driving gizmo on these big rigs prevent these reasons for driver error?

Isn’t there an argument to be made that having the Self-Driving feature may only increase the temptation for truck drivers here to sleep, to surf the web, or to use drugs or alcohol, and when the alarm signals that the driver is needed to operate the big rig, it may be too late to stop a crash?

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