Autonomous vehicles. These come up often in fleet and the topic alone might stress you out just thinking about how to integrate these vehicles into your operation.
But how much time should you really spend planning for AVs right now?
RTA CEO Josh Turley, fleet Hall of Famer Steve Saltzgiver, and former trucking executive Jeff Jenkins discussed the progress of AVs and how they could impact the fleet industry in a recent episode of the podcast, “The Fleet Success Show.”
5 Levels of Autonomy
There are five levels of autonomous vehicles. According to the NHTSA, these are:
Level 0: A driver does all the driving.
Level 1: An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) can help the human driver with steering, braking/accelerating, but not at the same time.
Level 2: An ADAS can control both steering and braking/accelerating at the same time, but the human driver must monitor the movements and do the rest of the driving tasks.
Level 3: An automated driving system (ADS) can perform all aspects of the driving tasks under some circumstances. However, a human driver must be able to take back control at any time. The human must perform the rest of the driving responsibilities.
Level 4: An ADS can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances. When this happens, the human driver does not need to pay attention.
Level 5: An ADS can do all the driving, under all circumstances.
Right now, we are at Level 3. The vehicles can perform some driving tasks without driver involvement, but the human driver is still very much needed. That also means we’re not yet at a Level 4 or 5, where vehicles can be entirely self-driven.
How Will This Impact Fleets?
The question is, when will Level 4 and Level 5 AVs be available, and what does it mean for fleets?
For Steve, his biggest concern is over infrastructure.
“I think ultimately infrastructure is going to be the key to all of this,” Steve said.
He wonders how AVs will operate in rural areas where there are still dirt roads. What happens if there are older cars on the roadways with AVs? Will AVs need their own lanes to travel in?
Josh worries about the varying circumstances that vehicles can encounter each day. For example, what happens if a traffic light is out, and a police officer is directing traffic. Will the AV be able to detect the officer’s hand signals to know when it can go?
Jeff has concerns over the costs and logistics.
On the podcast, Jeff made a comparison between airplanes using the autopilot function and AVs. He said autopilot has been around for more than 100 years, yet we still need pilots to operate planes to perform certain maneuvers and to be available in case something happens.
CDL drivers could be needed in AVs the same way pilots are in planes – at least for heavy-duty fleets. Drivers may need to be in the cab in case a situation occurs that requires a human driver. This means that fleets could need to spend money on the AVs, and also pay a driver. That might not be possible for all operations.
But Jeff thinks you might not need to worry about these scenarios quite yet.
“When it comes to autonomous vehicles, especially in the heavy-duty industry, we’re just so far out,” Jeff said.
Until we get closer to Level 4 and Level 5 AVs, it could be a waiting game for fleets and planning for a lot of “what-if” scenarios.
To hear more predictions about when AVs might be available for fleets and the impact they could have on the industry, listen to the full episode of “The Fleet Success Show.”