Self-driving 18-wheelers to start rolling on highways

For some of our St. Louis readers, the news that Waymo’s self-driving trucks are returning to the roads will offer hope for the future, while for others the news will be disturbing. Waymo is Google’s self-driving vehicles division, recently announced that after a two-year hiatus, it is putting its autonomous tractor-trailers back on freeways.

The company’s long-term goal is to reduce the cost of trucking with fuel-efficient, computer-piloted 18-wheelers that do not cause tractor-trailer crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities.

People who believe Google’s goal is achievable are likely glad to hear that Waymo’s big rigs are returning to Arizona’s highways in the Phoenix area. The company says it is “back to continue that learning at a more advanced stage in our development” of self-driving large commercial trucks.

Waymo is currently testing self-driving vans in Arizona and also operates an autonomous taxi service in Phoenix and suburbs.

Waymo says the 18-wheelers use the same computer-and-sensor system as the passenger vehicles, but that the sensors are configured differently on the big rigs. Early testing of the big trucks will include two drivers in each truck.

No one knows how quickly Waymo might succeed in replacing trucker-driven rigs with computer-sensor-piloted rigs, but many groups are paying close attention to developments. In addition to those of us who would share the streets and highways with the self-driving 18-wheelers, there are also 3.5 million truck drivers who could have their livelihoods made obsolete.

For now, big rigs are as dangerous as ever. If you or a loved one has been harmed in a truck accident, contact a St. Louis attorney experienced in personal injury and wrongful death litigation.