Trending Topics

Texas attorney warns first responders about autonomous tractor-trailers coming to interstates

Attorney Amy Witherite, an expert in trucking safety, warns that these 80,000-pound vehicles may pose a special danger to first responders


A still frame from video provided by KCBS-TV shows a Tesla Model S electric car that has crashed into a fire engine on Interstate 405 in Culver City, Calif.


Business Wire

DALLAS — 2024 is the year many companies are promising to place tractor-trailers on Texas highways without a driver in the cab. One major route will be along I-45 between Dallas and Houston. Attorney Amy Witherite, an expert in trucking safety, warns that these 80,000-pound vehicles may pose a special danger to first responders.

According to the American Automobile Association, “every year about 23 roadside workers and first responders (one every two weeks) loses their life at the roadside and hundreds more are injured while tending to disabled vehicles.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a Tesla did not respond correctly when a fire apparatus and police cruiser with emergency lights activated were used to block an accident scene in California.

Using a fire engine to protect first responders at accident scenes is a widespread practice. According to the NTSB, “when the vehicle ahead of the Tesla changed lanes to the right to go around the fire truck, the Tesla remained in the HOV lane, accelerated, and struck the rear of the fire truck at a recorded speed of about thirty-one mph.”

The NTSB noted, “the probable cause of the Culver City, California, rear-end crash was the Tesla driver’s lack of response to the stationary fire truck in his travel lane, due to inattention and overreliance on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system.”

“Imagine the tremendous damage an 80,000-pound autonomous truck would have caused in this same situation,” said Witherite. “Automation is important and can make driving much safer, but it is fair to ask whether it is safe to place fully automated trucks on the road at this time.”

California is not the only state struggling with this issue. According to the Austin Monitor, “an internal reporting system used by Austin firefighters and police describes Cruise cars coming within inches of parked fire trucks, ignoring police directing traffic and – in one instance – almost cutting off an ambulance flashing its lights on the way to Sixth Street. On other occasions, firefighters wrote, Cruise employees struggled to move their own disabled vehicles out of the way of traffic.”

The results of AAA’s annual automated vehicle survey show that while there is still a high level of interest in partially automated vehicle technology, attitudes toward fully self-driving vehicles have become increasingly apprehensive. This year there was a major increase in drivers who are afraid, rising to 68% as compared to 55% in 2022. This is a 13% jump from last year’s survey and the biggest increase since 2020.

“We owe it to those who put their lives on the line to protect ours to make sure that fully automated vehicles don’t increase the already high level of risk associated with working accident scenes on our state’s highways,” says Witherite.