The development of autonomous vehicles has caused a great amount of stress throughout the trucking industry. Fleet owners are worried about the initial cost and reliability of autonomous vehicles. Truckers fear they will be displaced and have their jobs taken over by machines. Given the pace of technology and an uncertain future, there are very legitimate concerns at all levels of the trucking industry, ranging from expenses to safety to career viability. However, analysts have pointed out that the rise of autonomous vehicles over the next decade will have a much-diminished impact on the trucking industry than our fears indicate.
Autonomous Vehicles Will Start Small
The trucking industry isn’t quite ready for self-driving vehicles. Legislation is not in agreement from state to state on how Google, Tesla, Amazon, or even Mercedes autonomous vehicles will legally operate on the roads. In fact, most of the displacement from self-driving vehicles will be felt by the taxi and ride-sharing industries. Smaller self-driving vehicles, such as cars, are able to navigate city streets. At the larger end of the scale, autonomous trucks still have problems navigating outside of highways. The technology still has to be refined for self-driving trucks to get around on a city level and to properly recognize obstacles and hazards. A fatal accident earlier this year pushed Uber to all but scrap its plans for self-driving trucks.
Working Hand-in-Robotic Hand
The tech gurus who are studying the evolution of self-driving truck are projecting a future that doesn’t hurt the livelihoods of career drivers. If anything, the future looks more symbiotic and safer. Autonomous trucks would do their jobs on the open highways, with the driver acting as co-pilot to adjust for situations the truck isn’t prepared for. Human drivers would also be better at navigating roads in cities and towns. Would this mean extra training? Most likely. Truckers would need to learn how the new trucks operate and how to take over for manual driving. For the long view, autonomous trucks may actually force Washington to do away with the ELD mandate as the hours of service are “shared” between the driver and the vehicle.
It’s still early days before we start seeing capable and functional self-driving trucks being incorporated into fleets. The very first commercially-available autonomous trucks aren’t set to roll off the assembly line until 2020, despite rumors to the contrary. But don’t expect flesh and blood truckers to go away anytime soon.