Pennsylvania company unveils autonomous truck safety system

Highway maintenance and repair workers are often expected to perform their duties in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Warning signs, arrow boards and reduced speed limits are their chief protection in these situations, but these measures alone cannot protect them completely from large and heavy semi-tractor trailers with fatigued or distracted drivers at the wheel. Self-driving vehicle technology has been lauded as having the potential to vastly reduce or even eliminate traffic accidents, and Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment has unveiled an innovative new autonomous attenuator truck that it says could save the lives of road workers.

Impact attenuators, which are also known as crash cushions, are fitted to the backs of commercial trucks or fixed structures, and they are designed to absorb impacts and direct colliding vehicles away from highway workers and their machinery. The attenuator truck unveiled by Royal Truck & Equipment uses autonomous technology developed by the defense contractor Micro Systems Inc. The technology was originally designed to protect military personnel from land mines.

A manned attenuator vehicle is usually deployed behind highway work crews, and the new autonomous vehicle will be added to this arrangement to provide an additional layer of protection. The autonomous truck receives its directions from the GPS system of the manned vehicle ahead of it, and it uses computers to determine when it should turn, accelerate and stop. Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that moving vehicles claimed the lives of 49 highway workers in 2014.

Highway workers in Pennsylvania who are injured by moving vehicles may be entitled to compensation under the state’s workers’ compensation program, and attorneys with experience in this area could help them with their claims and work to ensure that they receive all of the benefits available to them. While workers who accept benefits are generally not able to sue their employers, attorneys may file lawsuits on their behalf when the injuries are caused by a negligent third party such as a drowsy or distracted driver.