Three big rig trucks on the highway

For many years, the notion of self-driving trucks was viewed by many as a pipe dream, but now it isn't. Fully autonomous trucking is closer than ever to becoming a reality, with the self-driving truck company TuSimple laying the groundwork for the autonomous freight industry. And it's not just TuSimple that is working hard to make fully autonomous shipping a reality; Alphabet's Waymo is also expanding its self-driving routes throughout the Southwest and Texas after successful tests in California, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona. There are many perceived benefits of having more autonomous trucks on the roads — improved road safety, reduced costs for trucking companies, and faster deliveries are a few of them — but one key benefit that doesn't get a lot of publicity is how self-driving trucks will reduce the carbon footprint of the industry. 

More efficient driving 

Human drivers make a lot of errors on the roads that can make their trucks run inefficiently. For example, slamming the brakes heavier than necessary or accelerating too quickly jolts the truck in and out of motion, reducing its fuel efficiency. On the other hand, self-driving trucks can be programmed to run at maximum efficiency at all times, knowing exactly where and when to start and stop. Plus, these vehicles can also choose the best route to get from point A to B, further reducing fuel and energy consumption. 

Easing traffic congestion 

Trucks are major contributors to traffic snarl-ups as they make their way in and out of cities, particularly during rush hour. Traffic jams are a threat to the environment as they degrade ambient air quality and increase vehicle emissions. With more autonomous trucks on the roads, traffic jams could become a thing of the past. A study by PwC found that autonomous trucks can be on the road 78 percent of the time, unlike human-driven trucks that can only operate for 29 percent of the time. This means that self-driving trucks have less downtime and therefore will be able to plan their routes in such a way that ensures more miles are driven at night and avoids driving through cities during rush hour. 

Fewer materials needed 

Autonomous trucks will require no maneuvering by the driver, and some of them won't even require a driver on board. This means that a steering wheel, pedals, and gearbox won't be necessary. Also, since autonomous trucks will be much safer than conventional trucks, there won't be a need for safety equipment such as airbags, strong glass, and other heavy materials. As a result, self-driving trucks will require fewer materials to produce and will be much lighter than traditional trucks, further improving their fuel efficiency. 

Ultimately, autonomous trucks have the potential to reduce emissions and improve the environment. But, for this to happen, it will be up to trucking companies, regulatory authorities, and the general public to accept them and make them a part of modern society.

by Jennifer Dawson

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