It has been suggested that the transport industry will be completely transformed by self-driving trucks. Not all the news is excellent, however, with some transportation analyses suggesting that there will no longer be any need for truck drivers and the trucking industry as it exists today will become obsolete.
The reality, however, based on a plethora of data, suggests that truck drivers and self-driving trucks will work together to transform the transport industry positively, and the need for truck drivers will increase as self-driving trucks come onto the scene, for a variety of reasons.
First, self-driving trucks are not capable of – nor will they be for the foreseeable future – doing dock-to-dock runs. Self-driving trucks are designed for highway travel, but they are not intended to handle urban and industrial roads. Therefore, actual truck drivers will need to drive the vehicles from what the industry calls "transfer hubs," to loading docks on either side of a self-driving truck run.
Additionally, as self-driving trucks become more pervasive, freight costs should decrease, which will increase demand, leading to more overall transport business. If that's the case, more drivers will be needed to do the local part of the truck driving at the beginning and end of each truck run.
Self-driving trucks will also lower the risk of human injuries and deaths in the trucking industry. Truck driving is one the most dangerous professions in the world.
Being overtired, being distracted while driving, speeding or driving too fast for road or weather conditions, not doing complete equipment checks, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time are among the top reasons why truck drivers get injured or killed on the job. Since truck drivers make their living being on the road and being in traffic for many hours a day every day, the chances of being in an accident are much higher for them than anybody else on the road.
With self-driving trucks, the odds of injury or death to truck drivers are reduced significantly because the self-driving trucks handle the long hours and miles of highway and interstate travel. Truck drivers, on the other hand, take the very specialized training and skills their job requires and apply them in short intervals as they take self-driving trucks from loading docks to transfer hubs and vice versa.
With self-driving trucks, truck drivers will be able to focus on the things they are good at and which no self-driving truck can do. This includes getting in and out of the truck to move axels, checking brakes and air hoses, talking with a wide variety of people, and driving and maneuvering in and out of tight spots.
Right now, the transport industry is facing a shortage of truck drivers. One reason this shortage exists is that driving a truck is physically, emotionally, and economically (pay for general carriers is not great, while some private fleets pay significantly better) hard. The transport industry is nearing a rate of 100% turnover every year.
Additionally, the average truck driver is on the road and away from home and family for more than half the year, and that's brutal on everyone involved. Self-driving trucks would take over the over-the-road part that is so grueling on truck drivers and their family. Truck drivers, in turn, would work near home, doing the part of the driving that only humans – and very experienced and skilled humans – can do, and be home every day at the end of their workday.
When freight carriers adopt self-driving trucks, there will be a huge demand, with excellent incentives, for skilled and experienced truck drivers to handle dock runs throughout the country.
For all of this to work to transform the transport industry positively; however, the focus must be on taking care of truck drivers, with equitable pay, load incentives, and benefits (health, vision, dental, etc.). The industry needs to take into account the unique types of skills – mechanical, operation, and relationship – that truck drivers have to have to be successful. This is a skill-set that should be compensated adequately and fairly because it's a rare skill-set among the general population.
For the time being, however, self-driving trucks will still need a truck driver riding shotgun for the entire run because there are many tasks that only a human can do on a truck. One of those is filling up with gas. Another is doing actual maintenance on the truck. A third is all the human interaction that happens even in highway and interstate driving, like paying for gas, repairs, if necessary, and oil changes, as well as cooperating with law enforcement stops, and handling toll booth and tunnel fees.
This, too, will change the transport industry because the truck drivers that ride along in the self-driving trucks will need advanced technology skills that other truck drivers don't require. Those skills should translate to higher pay because, in addition to being professional drivers, they will also need to be professional information technology experts. Different training will have to be included in CLD courses, and new certifications will need to be issued.
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