Company Says Washington-Oregon Highway Best for Self-Driving Trucks

The 637-mile I-5 corridor could allow a self-guided truck to roll for hours at a time.

This October 2016 photo provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a self-driving truck that delivers beer in Colorado.
This October 2016 photo provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a self-driving truck that delivers beer in Colorado.
Associated Press

The most productive freeway corridor for self-driving trucks in the United States appears to be Interstate 5 through Washington and Oregon, according to a report released this week by the Kirkland-based INRIX data company.

The Seattle Times reports that the runners-up are I-95 from Jacksonville to Miami, Florida; I-75 from Valdosta, Georgia, to Miami; I-70 from Utah to Kansas, and I-85 from northeast Georgia to Greensboro, North Carolina, where companies could reduce the cost to move freight once self-driving vehicle technologies are ready.

INRIX looked at four criteria to make the rankings.

First, I-5 carries a lot of freight. State counts show nearly 21,000 daily truck trips through Tacoma and 12,000 at Longview.

Second, the highway is less congested than several other U.S. freeways on a 24-hour basis to operate trucks — despite INRIX's own assertion this spring that Everett experiences the nation's worst peak-time highway delays. Congestion eases throughout southern Washington and southern Oregon for interstate trips.

Third, the corridor is long — some 637 miles between Vancouver, B.C., and Yreka, California, where a self-guided truck could roll for hours at a time.

Finally, high incident rates throughout I-5 can cause sudden slowdowns. Autonomous trucks may be more valuable in avoiding secondary crashes if they can "see farther ahead" and reduce speed sooner than human drivers, said INRIX spokesman Mark Burfeind.

INRIX chose its criteria based on a future business model where an autonomous truck powered by electric batteries or diesel-hybrid motors would cross long highway miles and then be taken over by people who would pilot the rigs through crowded cities to the final loading dock or port, said Avery Ash, INRIX's autonomous vehicle director.

Experiments are underway in a few states, including Colorado, where a self-driving beer truck covered 132 miles last year while a human on board moved about the cab. The INRIX report predicted few self-driving trucks on the road over the next five years, but they could become ubiquitous in 20 to 50 years.

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