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Autonomous attenuator truck could save lives

Highway workers in Texas and around the country are kept safe by a range of passive safety systems including arrow boards, reduced speed zones and warning signs, and trucks with attenuators fitted provide an active measure of last resort to protect road repair and maintenance crews from out-of-control vehicles. Attenuators are aluminum boxes with honeycomb centers filled with sand or air, and they are designed to absorb the impact of colliding vehicles and direct them safely away from workers.

However, driving an attenuator truck can be a hazardous job, and this is particularly true when the colliding vehicle is a fully laden semi weighing as much as 80,000 pounds and traveling at highway speeds. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that 49 highway workers lost their lives in 2014 after being struck by moving vehicles, and the Pennsylvania-based attenuator truck maker Royal Truck & Equipment believes that autonomous technology originally developed for military applications could significantly improve construction zone safety.

The technology being used by Royal was developed by the defense contractor Micro Systems Inc. to protect soldiers on the battlefield from land mines, and it uses an array of sensory equipment to monitor road conditions and determine the appropriate times to brake, accelerate and turn. The autonomous trucks will be deployed behind manned attenuator trucks to provide an added layer of workplace safety for highway workers.

Highway workers struck by vehicles with fatigued, impaired or distracted drivers at the wheel may file workers' compensation claims, and attorneys may also be able to seek civil remedies on their behalf by filing personal injury lawsuits against the negligent motorists involved. While the workers' compensation program generally prevents lawsuits being filed against employers after workplace accidents, litigation may be initiated against a third party. Lawsuits of this type could seek compensation for damages that are not usually covered by the workers' compensation program.

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