The Problem with Self-Driving Trucks

One of the current issues facing the trucking industry is the ongoing driver shortage.  Tech companies began to promise self-driving trucks as a potential solution to this shortage.  However, there are those in the trucking industry that don’t see this solution as a practical one at this time.  It is clear that the direction new technology for trucks is heading is towards efficiency and attracting new drivers.  The likelihood of “driverless trucks” putting truckers out of a job any time soon is slim to none.  That as even a possibility is decades if not more years away.  The human equation is too important and technology has not been able to fully recreate it yet.

We cannot separate the human equation in trucking.  There are regulations and logistics that automated trucks would need to pass.  Truck drivers do more than just drive trucks.  Truck driving involves great skill that builds valuable experience through the years on the job.

The Tech is Not Ready Yet

While many companies are pushing forward with developing the self-driving truck technology, recent accidents show that the road is still long.  Uber has suspended their testing of self-driving cars after an accident.  Even after Tesla’s Autopilot was cleared of fault after a fatal self-driving car accident, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that “Autopilot requires full driver engagement at all times.”

These instances were accidents where standard sized vehicles were involved.  What could have happened had it been an 18-wheeler?  If the standard sized self-driving vehicle isn’t above reproach then semis, reefers, tankers, doubles and triples, dump trucks, mixer trucks, etc. have no place yet in “driverless” automation.

Like Tesla’s Autopilot, even when automation integration begins in CDL trucking, there must be a certified and qualified driver in the vehicle at all times.  The graph below shows the level of automation required for different kinds of jobs.  Highlighted are the trucking jobs, which are below average on automation.  In other words, jobs like receptionists have more repetitive tasks that automation can replace.  Truck driving is low in automation, meaning the tasks and skills are more difficult to replace with automation.

Automation Map

The report that issued this graph states that “drivers are not simply sitting behind the wheel all day on auto drive. They also inspect their freight loads, fix equipment, make deliveries, and perform other non-routinized tasks.”

Small Steps in the Right Direction

The path to an automated trucking industry will have to come in baby steps.  Those first steps will be installing new technologies that help the human drivers with efficiency and safety, not a full replacement.  The driver shortage has made clear that the trucking industry is still a significant part of the American economy.  The shortage is hurting that.  A potential benefit of these first steps to automation is attracting a new generation of drivers.

If we learn anything from the surge in new technologies for the trucking industry is that we need more drivers!  This tech is geared towards improved efficiency and safety.  New tech is new to everyone, new drivers and old.  The new changes to the industry make it more welcoming.  In conclusion, the industry is ripe new drivers!

Original sources: Truckinginfo,  Truck News