Road construction is one of the more dangerous occupations, given the presence of very large highway equipment and the sometimes very close proximity of high-speed traffic. Errors involving either can have devastating consequences for any workers near a crash or collision.
Sometimes roadwork occurs outside well-defined work zones, such as when potholes are filled, guardrails or signposts repaired or paintwork is being performed. Since it is difficult to place effective barriers in such circumstances, other trucks are used as a mobile barrier between the workers and traffic.
Often the barrier vehicle is a large dump truck with a device known as an attenuator mounted on the rear. This device absorbs some of the energy in a crash and, it is hoped, slows the vehicle with less than catastrophic results.
Of course, the driver of the attenuator truck is something of a target, waiting to be hit. While the consequence of being rear-ended by another vehicle is far less severe than it would be in a passenger vehicle, it is hardly an optimal situation for any worker.
This role is a perfect opportunity for an unmanned truck. The use of an autonomous truck will be tried this year by the Florida Department of Transportation.
This truck will presumably be tied to the operation of a second vehicle, with a live driver. The autonomous vehicle will be controlled by that driver, but will be able to be placed far enough behind that driver’s vehicle that he or she would be out of harm’s way, should a crash occur.
If successful, it is likely that most states, like Wisconsin, would adopt such systems to prevent workplace accidents on road construction sites.
Source: insurancejournal.com, “Unmanned Work Zone Trucks Promise Road Safety, Savings,” Michael Rubinkam, August 27, 2015