• Autonomous Fleets
  • Unmanned Vehicles

How Stakeholders Can Mitigate the Socioeconomic Impacts of Automated Trucking

Raquel Soat
Nov 21, 2019

Electric Truck

Self-driving trucking is visible on the horizon. Companies are fighting to deploy semi and eventually fully automated commercial vehicles. Daimler, Tesla, Waymo, and Volvo are just a few of the companies developing the technology and vying for market share in the trucking industry. Semi-autonomous trucking is likely to increase highway safety and reduce the amount of traffic fatalities each year. What socioeconomic impacts will this technology disruption have on the trucking market?

Trucking Job Reduction

With any technology disruption, the public becomes concerned about how the new technology will affect jobs. In the US, the total 2019 truck driver shortage is estimated to be about 60,000. Driver shortages are often attributed to the conditions associated with long-haul trucking: driving for long periods of time, being alone, and remaining physically inert. The conditions can be psychologically exhausting. They also keep truckers away from their home and families for lengthy periods of time.

The ability to have a truck drive itself on highways for the long-haul stretches disliked by human truck drivers is an appealing business proposition for fleet operators. However, it could lead to job loss for truckers who depend on those long-haul trucking gigs for well-paying employment. Some believe, however, that self-driving technology will actually help truck drivers stay close to home. At least for the foreseeable future of automated trucking, the larger class 7 and class 8 vehicles will probably need to be manned in city driving situations (and potentially for highway driving due to safety and regulation concerns). City driving and short-haul heavy duty trucking trips would allow some drivers to maintain employment and stay close to home. In other words, it would resolve the issues causing driver shortages. However, this may be offset by light and medium duty commercial vehicles shifting to automation. Mid-mile and last mile deliveries are seen as a key target market for autonomous trucking.

What Roll Can Stakeholders Play?

There are a multitude of interactions in the transportation ecosystem. Effects will not be felt equally across the system. It will be important for stakeholders in the trucking space to invest in training employees for the transition away from traditional long-haul trucking, primarily in fields that will be created due to the transition. For example, there will likely be a need for more fleet management and logistics operators as semi- and fully-autonomous trucks come onto the market, particularly to manage platooning. There may also be a need for specialized maintenance workers for upkeep of the new electric, automated trucks.

Advantages In Sight

A big advantage of automated trucking is decreased costs for fleet operating companies. The job reduction in long-haul truckers may be inevitable as these technologies are deployed and reach economies of scale. It will be up to the fleet operators and industry associations to ensure job transition for those affected by the technology disruption.

While there may be some job loss due to automated trucking, it is more likely that there will be job creation and transition in terms of short-haul city trucking, operations and maintenance, and fleet management and logistics.