Driverless Trucking Will Save Millions, Cost Millions of Jobs
Technology Will Dramatically Lower Costs, Decimate Driver Workforce
New technologies are often disruptive, loved by many who use them, and despised by those in industries displaced by them. Just as taxi drivers revolted against upstart ride-on-demand services Lyft and Uber, sometimes marshaling support from municipalities and trade unions, the transportation industry may be on the cusp of an even larger and more disruptive revolution: the driverless truck. Technology blog TechCrunch takes a look at both sides of the issue in a post written by contributor Ryan Petersen.
Many trucking jobs are currently well paying, often offering in the high five-figure range for qualified drivers, an excellent starting salary for a blue-collar profession that requires little formal education other than commercial license training and certification. However, the high pay is a symptom of a critical shortage of drivers, with the average driver age reported to be 55 years old and few younger new hires to replace them. In his blog, Petersen claims labor represents as much as 75 percent of the cost of transporting long-haul goods. Additionally, many states and trucking companies have rules on the books limiting drivers to 11 hours a day, with mandatory eight-hour breaks in between.
A driverless truck could operate 24 hours, stopping only for fuel when needed. This could potentially dramatically cut the cost of consumer goods transported by truck. However, the flipside is potentially millions of lost jobs, as heavy truck drivers are ultimately phased out in favor of autonomous, drone-like trucks. In many states in the U.S., truck driving is one of the top professions by category.
It may be tempting to dismiss this hypothetical as nothing more than distant sci-fi. However, earlier this month, Daimler Trucks, the parent company of Freightliner, sent a convoy of autonomous heavy trucks from Stuttgart, Germany, to the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, a distance of nearly 400 miles, clearly a proof-of-concept demonstration.
The technology to make driverless heavy trucks a reality is clearly here. It’s just a matter of regulators catching up with technology and establishing clear, common-sense guidelines for operation. Do you work as a truck driver? How do you feel about the prospect of a truck driver being replaced by a robot?