Should Truck Drivers Welcome Autonomous Trucks?

The world of self-driving cars and trucks is just around the corner, with car companies and technology giants working on the smarter vehicles.

But many of the issues around autonomous vehicles are still unresolved. How must legislation change to make self-driving cars legal? What happens in a crash? And how will self-driving cars impact jobs and work?

In the same way that self-checkouts have started to replace retail jobs and chatbots are taking over customer service roles, should truck drivers be worried about artificially intelligent trucks coming for their jobs?

Goldman Sachs predicted US job losses of 25,000 per month as self-driving trucks are rolled out and a global consultancy found that 2 million American and European truckers could be directly displaced by 2030.

Uber’s Advanced Technology Group – one of the big tech companies working on autonomous freight carriers – argues that self-driving trucks could in fact increase the number of jobs.

In a blog post on the subject, they say that while concerns about the future are understandable, they don’t account for the technical realities of self-driving technology or the industry’s changing demographics and economics.

It is unlikely, for example, that self-driving trucks will be completing fully autonomous journeys for a long time.

Self-driving technology can take over on long easy stretches such as driving on motorways, but they will not be able to drive the last few miles through complex urban and industrial streets.

Self-driving trucks will also find it tough to refuel and load and unload deliveries. These tasks take complex movements and skills that autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be able to replicate for dozens of years.

By modelling jobs using information from the US Department of Labour, data experts at Uber found that there could be an extra 766,000 jobs in the United States by 2028 if there were 1 million self-driving trucks by that time.

This forecast assumes that self-driving trucks will be able to spend more time on the road, because they can operate more efficiently.

It also assumes that improved efficiencies will lead to cheaper goods and more demand, which in turn will lead to more new goods being shipped and more jobs for truck drivers. It will also lead to more jobs switching from long haul to local haul, which many drivers prefer.

Aging drivers

Uber’s technology czars believe that self-driving trucks can help address structural problems in the haulage industry.

The haulage industry is seriously affected by a truck driver shortage on both sides of the Atlantic. The Freight Transport Association estimates that tens of thousands of new truck drivers are needed just to prevent the industry from grinding to a halt.

The number of people applying for an HGV licence has dropped significantly in the last five years and more than 13,000 working truckers are already aged over 65.

Uber believes that self-driving trucks can help make truck driving more appealing and accessible, particularly to young people which the industry is desperately short of. It may even help bring down the high cost of a HGV licence – which is seen as a key barrier for people who want to get into the industry.

Driving a truck is a tough job, the hours can be long and gruelling and truckers can be away from home for more than 200 nights per year – which can be unappealing. Uber believes that technology can help make the job easier and attract more people into the industry.