Driverless trucks: The next big thing on the road

Chances are you have heard about self-driving cars and maybe you have even seen one on the road. It is technology that is rapidly evolving to different models and now, to even larger semi trucks. News Center 7 has learned, companies right now are eyeing the Miami Valley as a testing ground.

"No, I am not thrilled," said James Mercier, a Dayton area truck driver.

"I would not be comfortable," said Mike Ramstetter.

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Imagine big trucks you pass and weave around every day, driven not by the guy behind the wheel, but by the technology inside it.

"Nobody wants an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer going with nobody in the front seat," said Kevin Burch, President of JetExpress Trucking.

However, it could happen. Earlier this year, Ohio Governor John Kasich created the new agency, "Drive Ohio" to help companies find places in the Buckeye state to safely test their autonomous car and truck technology. The state is prepping 164 miles of an Ohio road for just that purpose.

In 2016, a semi ran test routes up and down U.S 33 between Columbus and East Liberty. The driver in the front seat had no hands on the steering wheel. Like cars, these trucks use sensors and radar to operate. They scan their surroundings and make decisions, somewhat like humans. But according to experts, they are better at it and not distracted by cell phones and conversations.

"Ohio really wants to be a leader in the development of this technology because we understand that there are huge safety benefits that can come from getting better technology into our vehicles," said Erica Hawkins of the Ohio Department of Transportation and "Drive Ohio."

However, driving can be unpredictable and require split-second lane changes and stops. Some people we talked with question whether the computer can keep up.

"We might be asking more than is realistic," said truck driver James Mercier. He questioned whether the truck could run over another vehicle or a person in the road. That is what happened last month in Arizona when an autonomous Uber car struck and killed a woman crossing the street.

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"It's got to be 100 percent. Every life is important," said Kevin Burch.

We asked Burch if he is worried that driverless big rigs would put his drivers out of work?

"The airline industry has had automatic pilots for a long time. They've been able to take off and land without a pilot, but you never see a pilot back in row 22 A or B that you and I might be sitting at," said Burch.

Likewise, Erica Hawkins said state officials only know of companies testing driverless trucks with drivers still in the cab, ready to step in. They believe the technology will ultimately save lives.

"We are optimistic that this kind of technology embedded into cars is going to make a reduction in the number of serious injuries and the number of fatalities on our roadways," said Hawkins.