The release of Uber’s autonomous car has caused a bit of concern in the trucking industry. While the benefits of autonomous cars are mainly about safety on the road, they may have a devastating effect on the economy. In fact, middle-class workers appear to be the most at risk. An Oxford University study estimated that 47 percent of jobs will be at high risk of being replaced by automation. Among those are food service industry workers, administrators, sales, and more.
In the trucking industry, technology is moving ever closer to the day when autonomous cars are a reality. There are good and bad sides to the evolution of the industry, but many drivers are most concerned with the fact that automation will forever change their role as the captain of the cab. It’s possible that the near future will bring entirely autonomous cars and trucks. Here are some of the reasons why truckers fear the coming of autonomous vehicles:
- The role change of the trucker – 3.5 million individuals are employed as professional truckers in the United States, and there is currently a shortage. When autonomous vehicles come onto the roads, some truck drivers will lose their jobs, while others will have to learn new, highly technical skills to remain viable in the marketplace. Truckers in the future will be responsible for maintaining systems on the road and running diagnostics rather than actively controlling the vehicle. They may be able to take control in limited circumstances, but the experience will be very dissimilar to the truck driving experience today.
- Drone technology – Automated vehicles are not the only threat to truck drivers. If drones can easily transport products, and the government legalizes their use for commercial transportation, truck drivers may face a sudden and severe deficit in the amount of freight that needs to be carried over the road.
- Lost income – Those who do not transition to another position in the trucking industry may never be able to earn the same kind of income or benefits they enjoyed as a trucker. The skillset of a truck driver is very specific, and much of it does not translate well to other industries. A closing pool of jobs driven by automation could leave several drivers unable to earn a meaningful income. Drivers of all ages may have to return to school to learn new skills that can be used in another field.
- Lost mileage – A driverless truck has already been tested on the highway. The technology may sound far-fetched, but the fundamentals have already been developed. It is likely that over-the-road highway travel will be the first area where automated vehicles are deployed. In the near future, it’s possible that truck drivers could lose the majority of their pay and time on the road to driverless trucks, limiting them to driving within dangerous urban environments.
For some, the technology will be a welcome change to the daily struggles of driving a truck. For others, it will signal the end of a great era in driver-controlled truck driving.