It is common knowledge that autonomous vehicles are well on their way to becoming a reality. The truth of the matter is that the technology behind autonomous cars is still very expensive and out of reach for the average consumer. Because of this, it could take many years for society as a whole to transition to self-driving cars. On the other hand, self-driving tractor trailers may be closer to commonplace than ever before.
Feasible and Affordable
The technology required to make a vehicle autonomous averages around $75,000 which makes it unattainable to the average consumer. However, the majority of tractor trailers cost more than $150,000 so the added cost to make the vehicle autonomous would be proportionally more manageable. Adding self-driving technology would also be seen as an investment to trucking firms and owner-operators because it would allow for longer and more efficient hauls. John Markoff of The New York Times describes the potential of the self-driving truck by stating “It could make trucking more efficient, allowing, for example, a human driver to rest in the sleeper cabin while the truck takes the wheel.” These advantages would likely lead to increased profits that would offset the cost of adding the upgrades. Because of the potential for financial benefit, the demand for autonomous technology will likely be high in the trucking industry and these features would be adopted quickly.
Making Roads Safer
Another vastly important aspect to autonomous tractor trailers is their ability to make roadways safer. According to data from the department of transportation, 5.6 percent of all vehicle miles are driven by trucks and truck drivers are responsible for 9.5 percent of highway fatalities. With the introduction of self-driving big-rigs, the chance for human error behind the wheel would decrease drastically. The dangers of distracted driving and falling asleep while on the job would be all but eliminated. As a result, tractor trailer-related incidents are expected to drop exponentially with the introduction of autonomous trucks, increasing the overall safety of roadways.
The Largest Drawback to Self-Driving Trucks
The biggest concern that employees of the trucking industry have with self-driving tractor trailers is the potential for the elimination of jobs. With automation inevitably on the horizon, many truck drivers fear that they will no longer be needed and will be laid off from their positions. There are more than three million truck drivers in the United States and many small town economies depend on the long-haul industry to survive. However, it should be noted that autonomous trucks would still require an operator to ensure that all equipment is fully functional and to take action if any part of the system were to fail. While drivers would have to go through training to gain the ability to operate complex equipment, they would be able to maintain employment.
As a concluding note, it is important to mention that historically, through the process of economic and technological development, many facets of old economies became obsolete. Outdated technologies and industries were phased out and replaced by new innovations. But fear not, each time an industry closed its doors indefinitely, another came to take its place. The process of innovation often ends up creating more jobs than it eliminates, leading to new opportunities in the world of tomorrow.