Most analysts estimate that self-driving trucks will be mainstream within the next 10-15 years. What would this mean for truck drivers?
First and foremost, it doesn’t seem like truck driving will become an antiquated profession anytime soon. As it stands, self-driving trucks are only able to operate on long interstates. They have come nowhere near where they would need to be to navigate the complex labyrinths of urban areas where cargo is unloaded. Additionally, drivers will always be needed in self-driving trucks in case there is an emergency. With our current technology, small inconveniences such as debris on the road would require a human driver to take over.
Given these circumstances, however, it does seem like the nature of the truck driving profession may change. If drivers are in a role the requires no more than oversight of an autonomous truck, they should have a lot more free time to spend in the cabin, where they could catch up on sleep, read, talk to family members, or even start their own business. If they were paid for free time, lot of young workers would be enticed to join the industry and alleviate the shortages. There is a catch, however. If drivers are doing less work, it is likely that employers will push to pay workers less.
There are other potential side effects too. Autonomous trucking could lower the cost of hauling goods in many ways. To begin with, autonomous trucks would be programmed to drive in the most fuel efficient way possible. It is estimated that the best truck drivers are 30% more fuel efficient than the worst ones (Technology Review). Self-driving trucks are also likely to get into fewer crashes, because 90% of the nearly 4000 truck crashes that occur each year are from human error. Trucks will be able to transport cargo almost 24/7 too, because they will not be limited by the hours that a truck driver is allowed to work. All of these features will drive down the costs of transportation, which will, in turn drive up demand, meaning that there will be a demand for more drivers in the industry.
Autonomous trucking will mean that truck ports will become more popular. These are areas around entrances of cities where drivers switch off. Drivers with a more specific skill set take over to navigate the urban area. The existence of truck ports would mean that the nature of work for truck drivers would change drastically. They would no longer be able to live in rural locations where their wages can be stretched farther. They would be able to spend much more time with family, because they only drive local. These types of jobs (known as drayage trucking) are currently among the worst in the business. Drayage truckers are paid poorly and bear the brunt of congestion at ports and on highways. One can hope, however, that increased demand for these jobs will drive up wages.
In short, the future does seem uncertain for truckers; however, it seems fairly clear that most will not lose their jobs. In the Chinese language, the words for “change” and for “opportunity” are the same. Truckers would serve themselves by learning from the Chinese, if they want to succeed in an ever evolving landscape.
Personal Care Transport is the only company in Pennsylvania that is licensed to transport truck drivers. With over four years of experience, Personal Care has built close relations with men and women in the industry and has a deep understanding of the training process. Use Personal Care Services for all your trucking-related transportation needs!