How Will Self-Driving Trucks Affect the Future of the Trucking Industry?
Truck driving is the most common working-class job in many states in the United States and the recent successful tests of self-driving trucks by Tesla are threatening to displace many of the 3.5 million truck drivers. How will self-driving trucks affect the future of the trucking industry?
The Rise of Crowdsourced Drivers
Amazon is running a platform to crowdsource securing drivers for various routes taking packages from their local distribution centers to the customer’s doorstep. A different platform was developed to hook up long distance truck drivers with companies seeking drivers, eliminating the need to go through middlemen and dispatchers. Unlike driving a load from a factory to a distribution center, the need to identify packages, scan them and leave them somewhere secure cannot be automated. This will result in many owner-operators and people driving small vans working on a contract basis that literally changes day by day in “last mile” delivery work and odd jobs as they arise. And the “uberization” of such work will make truck driving a much less reliable source of income for most drivers.
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The Future Decline of Trucking Wages
There are already complaints from American drivers that wages haven’t caught up with the cost of living, while trucking companies have fought hard to let drivers cross the border and carry loads several hundred miles inland. Even shifting a few percent of cargo hauling to automated trucks will reduce demand and thus wages for drivers. There are only so many jobs one could take by earning extra certifications like Hazmat, and ironically, those are some of the transport jobs that will be given to automated vehicles first. It has already begun with automated mining trucks carrying loads out of the mine, without putting any humans at risk.
The Likely Localization of Human Truck Driving
The easiest driving tasks to automate are those with the lowest complexity. This means you’d see self-driving trucks shipping freight cross-country on highways versus the stop and go driving of city deliveries that still confound computers. We could see a hybrid model of “trucking” where a human drives the load from the factory out to a depot on the edge of town, the auto-pilot kicks in to take it across the state or the country, and it arrives at a predetermined destination for another driver to get in and take the truck to its destination. This eliminates the long lonely drives for drivers while minimizing the risk of self-driving trucks getting into accidents in city traffic. You’d also see local delivery trucks in urban and suburban areas remain manned while delivery of goods to grocery stores in the middle of nowhere is automated.
We can expect self-driving trucks to have a truly disruptive effect on the trucking industry as we know it. Human drivers will likely be pushed out of the dangerous (high paying) and long-distance trucking jobs. They’ll likely remain in unpredictable local delivery jobs, city driving, and unusual gigs, driven by the uberization of the trucking industry. Wages may also go down for the average trucker due to the competition with automation.