Economics and how commerce in the United States is something most people rarely discuss. The economy at large is background noise when the evening news is on, and hardly any reports are free of bad news. However, the dynamics of American economics are been quickly moving front and center when it comes to the future of the trucking industry. Between self-driving vehicles and a driver shortage that seems like it’s here to stay for a while, understanding economics paints a picture that isn’t as gloomy as you might think.

This Isn’t ‘Roger & Me’

When the word “automation” is thrown around, many of us immediately jump to the thought of mass layoffs. This is understandable. When robotics were made available to various industries in the 1980s, that fear became a reality. However, and assembly-line robotic arm or lathe is not the same as a self-driving truck. What we have seen from the big manufacturers is that these self-driving trucks are great on major roads and they are great at parking. At the town or city street level, a human being is still needed to navigate traffic. The trucks do not secure their own loads. They don’t perform their own maintenance, refuel, or (in the case of electric trucks) self-charge. The human element is necessary. In the case of owner operators, no one understands local businesses better than human drivers. The trucks aren’t going to balance the books, negotiate contracts, or listen to the needs of their customers, or convert invoices to revenue. People are not going to be forced out of the trucking industry anytime soon.

Economics And The Driver Shortage

The trucking industry is currently facing a driver shortage despite an overall increase in wages over the last year. Analysts have shown that there is a strange circulation occurring in our economy. Currently, more than half of all truckers are over the age of 45. On the other end of the scale, less than 25 percent are younger than 35. More young drivers seem to be jumping from trucking and into construction, leaving a population of drivers who are nearing retirement, and also filtering out of the industry. At the same time, with the shortage of drivers, the cost of meeting customer demands is forcing the trucking industry to think about passing on extra charges to clients. The businesses that would hit the hardest would be retailers, who do not have much of a profit margin. Increased shipping costs would mean retailers would have to cut back on staff. The strange part that completes the circulation change, is that shippers are recruiting young talent from the retail world, who are actively seeking higher paying jobs. This strange circulation may actually correct the driver shortage in the long run.

The future of trucking is not as bleak as it seems, once you look beyond those telling you that the sky is falling.