Will Driverless Trucks Leave Drivers Jobless?

Posted by Skye Robinson | September 18, 2017 | blog, Newsletter
nebula cloud sunrise motorway

Earlier this month, big names in transportation spoke before the U.S. Senate, offering reassurances around driverless vehicles. The big takeaway? We will still need truck drivers, but change is coming. This is in stark contrast to the many reports saying driverless trucks will slash at truck driving jobs, eliminating up to 70% of them.

Not driverless, but driver-assisted
The senate is working on legislation to govern “autonomous vehicle technology,” and Democrats are concerned about jobs lost as self-drivng trucks become the norm. However, Navistar CEO Troy Clarke and American Trucking Associations Chris Spear said this month that the move is less toward “driver-less” vehicles and more toward “driver-assisted” vehicles, similar to the way commercial airline jets are flown these days, with much of the actual flying done by automation but with pilots in the cockpit.

During the hearings, Clarke told senators, “Large-scale displacement of drivers is not likely to happen, especially in the short and medium term.” At the same time, he reiterated the technology will improve safety and productivity while lowering costs and making better use of existing infrastructure.

Experts say jobs will disappear with automation
Automating the trucking industry was probably inevitable as more and more jobs in the U.S. are lost to technology and innovation. Driverless trucks save businesses money, increase efficiencies, and reduce accidents, according to proponents. Why wouldn’t the industry be automated?

With the shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. already at 30,000, stagnant wages for the drivers we do have, and no sign that a younger generation is going to step forward to replace those drivers who are aging out, maybe this all works out in the end as America’s 3.5 million truck drivers keep their jobs and driverless trucks are phased in as these drivers retire and are phased out?

Or not. According to a recent study that covers both the European and U.S. trucking industries, of the 6.4 million truck driver jobs expected by 2030, up to 4.4 million will be “redundant” if driverless trucks hit the road as quickly as some are projecting. Accounting for the existing shortage of truck drivers to fill all of the current jobs, the report concludes over 2 million drivers in the U.S. and Europe could be “displaced” by 2030.

It’s a strange and stark contrast to the news we’ve been hearing the last few years about a lack of drivers. Now it looks like we might face a lack of jobs instead. Or perhaps the executives who spoke before the senate are right, and manpower will still be needed to guide these trucks—if not actually drive them. One can hope, right?

(And driverless or driver-assisted, all the trucks will still need mobile fleet washing!)

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