- Truck drivers won’t be significantly impacted when autonomous vehicles (AVs) come online over the next decade, according to a new report commissioned by the American Center for Mobility and conducted by Michigan State University Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
- The study found passenger-based drivers, like cab drivers, are more likely to be displaced by AVs. Limousine drivers and bus or transit operators, who generally work in industries that require face-to-face interaction or passenger assistance, are less likely to see a jobs impact with proper training.
- Working on a 10-year projection with AVs coming online in the 2020s, the study found that truck drivers are unlikely to be significantly affected because of the existing driver shortage and the belief that autonomous tech will support truckers instead of replace them.
The potential employment impact of AVs has been a hot topic among government officials, who don’t want to see a promising technology trample existing industries. Speaking in February, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, said he wanted to see more thought go to the impacts on the trucking and ride-sharing industries. "AI systems have the power to displace a lot of jobs, and I’m very concerned about the hollowing out of the middle class, which would be the jobs that are most at risk in this area," Peters said.
As lawmakers work to pass comprehensive legislation to facilitate the rise of AVs (although the Senate’s AV START bill is still looking for a vehicle to passage), mitigating labor impacts has been a focus. The American Center for Mobility study recommends that more research be done now into how vehicle operators could be put into different workforce sectors and identify the specific skill sets required to further the adoption of AVs. With technology companies already finding it a challenge to staff up with workers well versed in AV technology, the authors say retraining and targeted coursework could help displaced drivers find work elsewhere in the manufacturing and technology sector.
"In the near-term there is great potential for these technologies to assist commercial drivers in safely operating trucks," said Christopher Poe, assistant director for connected and automated transportation strategy at TTI. "Longer-term it will be important to define, develop, and deliver targeted training for the workforce."
The report also comes just a week after Uber shuttered its self-driving truck unit, removing one of the industry’s major initiatives to put autonomous trucks on the road. Still, freight remains one of the industries most likely to see disruption from driverless technology, even if not from Uber, meaning it needs to adapt quickly.