Will Autonomous Trucks Really Get Rid of Drivers?

If you search for the latest in autonomous trucks, you’ll find headlines like “Driverless Vehicles and the End of the Trucker,” “Will Technology Make Truck Drivers Obsolete in 10 Years?,” and “Robots could replace 1.7 million American Truckers in the next decade.” You’ll also find articles titled “Driverless trucks will be (mostly) great,” “Automation won’t wipe out all of the jobs in the trucking industry,” and “Saying that Autonomous cars will kill millions of jobs by 2025 is crap.”

So, what is it? Is the threat of autonomous trucks as major as it sounds to the trucking industry? We’ve weighed some of the latest big thoughts on the topic for you to decide.

End of the Road: Will Automation Put an End to the American Trucker? by The Guardian

The number of Americans who drive heavy trucks, taxis, buses, and delivery vehicles surpasses 3.5 million. In this article by The Guardian, many of those drivers believe that autonomous technology could threaten their livelihood, but not in the near future.

Google, Uber, and Tesla are among the more than 260 companies working to develop their own forms of autonomous vehicles. These vehicles would either eliminate driver jobs or downgrade them to co-pilots.

Many agencies quoted 10 years before autonomous trucks are fully operational in the industry. Most drivers don’t see their jobs changing anytime soon. Drivers interviewed by The Guardian said people, in general, are not ready for autonomous trucks, combined with the lack of current infrastructure to support them widespread.

Since 2014, at least 41 states and Washington D.C. have considered legislation regarding autonomous vehicles, with 21 states actually passing legislation.

Robots Could Replace 1.7 Million American Truckers in the Next Decade by LA Times

Analysts and industry experts cited in this article agree that autonomous truck technology could replace drivers within a decade.

Federal agencies insist that autonomous trucks will save lives, and autonomous vehicle makers promise that the cost of travel and transporting goods will be lowered in the process as well.

This article includes quotes from several lecturers about autonomous vehicles’ and other automation’s impact on the work force.

Jerry Kaplan, a Stanford lecturer, said, “We are going to see a wave and an acceleration in automation, and it will affect job markets.”

James Bensen, a lecturer at the Boston University School of Law was quoted saying, “The people whose skills become obsolete are low-wage workers, and to the extent that it’s difficult for them to acquire new skills, it affects inequality.”

Will Technology Make Truck Drivers Obsolete in 10 Years? by Forbes

This article, from 2015, cites a report “On the road towards the autonomous truck” done by consulting company Roland Berger. According to the report’s analysts, the final stage of fully autonomous vehicles would begin in 2025 onward where the “driver is practically no longer required.”

Safety and cost are again named as two major factors why autonomous truck technology would replace or reduce truck drivers. Adaptive cruise-control and other vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will decrease human error. Less fuel consumption, lower cost for driver wages, and platooning would also save costs.

Driverless Trucks Will Be (Mostly) Great by Bloomberg

While the idea of self-driving trucks hitting the roads within the next decade seems daunting, this article points out that trucks with some degree of automation are already present in ore mines and hauling freight.

The Editors of Bloomberg who penned this article believes that automation won’t cut jobs, but will instead lead to faster employment growth as the combination of human and robot labor improves productivity. Writers believe trucking jobs wouldn’t disappear but would morph into tech and logistics jobs that would require different skills, but offer better pay and working conditions.

Truckers Do a lot of Stuff Besides Driving that Automated Vehicles Don’t by Quartz

According to Quartz, driving a truck is the most common occupation in 29 states. About 40% of people in the trucking industry aren’t even driving a truck at all.

According to Quartz, driving a truck is the most common occupation in 29 states. About 40% of people in the trucking industry aren’t even driving a truck at all.

Joseph Kane, a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institute was cited in the article.

“Many truck drivers and many support workers, mechanics and other administrative workers, they will continue to play an enormous role in this industry,” said Kane.

In a report by Joseph Kane and Adie Tomer titled “Automated trucking’s rapid rise overlooks the need for skilled labor,” the authors pointed out that many of the nation’s truck drivers aren’t just sitting behind the wheel on auto drive. Drivers are necessary to inspect freight, fix their equipment, unload and deliver freight, among other tasks.

The authors of this article believe automation won’t wipe out all of the jobs in the trucking industry because there will still be plenty of jobs that a human can do that a robot cannot.

Saying that Autonomous Cars Will Kill Millions of Jobs By 2025 Is Crap by Jalopnik

This article author’s opinion on autonomous cars and trucks is apparent by the title alone.

There’s no denial that autonomous vehicles are coming. It’s the idea that driverless vehicles will eliminate millions of jobs within the next decade that the author is calling “crap.”

The author, Michael Ballaban, is quote “boldly dismissing” the prediction that autonomous cars will change our world in a decade, calling that notion “hooey.”

The article’s main points include that just because autonomous trucks and cars are available to the general public by 2025, doesn’t mean that every person will own one or find one to be the best fit for them at the time.

“There are massive upfront costs associated with replacing entire fleets, upfront costs that large business like trucking companies and large bus buyers like cities don’t exactly like.”

These articles laid out many of the facts behind the race to automation, researched timeline estimations for the rollout, and reasonings on both sides of the coin. Beyond the facts, there are many opinions (some more strongly worded than others) about whether autonomous trucks will really replace driver jobs, especially within the decade as many industry experts suggest.

Tell us your thoughts!

What do you think the future of autonomous trucks looks like?