Driverless trucks represent what those in the industry see as the future of commercial trucking: a future guided by computers rather than by the sentient hands of a driver, a future directed by precision rather than humanity.

"Whatever happens, it's going to be big, I can tell you that," says Julia Molander, an attorney with Cozen O'Connor who serves as an adviser to insurers.

"Drones," she says, will look like "completely small potatoes compared to autonomous vehicles."

Ted Scott, director of engineering for the American Trucking Associations, sees autonomous trucks as a matter of when, not if. That's because a number of semi-autonomous features already are being incorporated into today's trucks.

The question instead, he said, is whether these autonomous vehicles will be occupied by a driver or not.

"If I have to spend $150,000 to autonomize a truck, why would I put a driver in it?" Scott asks. "It doesn't make sense to put a driver we're paying $50,000 to $100,000 in a truck."

Removing drivers from trucks solves a lot of the problems facing the trucking industry – the driver shortage, accidents and fuel costs. It's just a matter of public and government support of the move, which is why Scott sees fully-automated trucks ruling the roads as a "long way off."

While the industry is still in the "big picture information gathering" stage, as Molander calls it, semi-autonomous features already are making their way onto the road.

More on autonomous vehicles on EHS Today.

EHS Today is a companion site to MH&L within Penton’s Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group.