When the Future Arrives – Part II

Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Trucking

Last month, we offered a quick introduction to the latest in vehicle automation and briefly discussed how these new technologies apply to the trucking industry. As with any technology disruption, however, the introduction of vehicle automation results in a painful bottleneck of possibilities, questions, and challenges.

Can trucking weather the potential disruption and come out the other side a stronger and healthier industry?

Exciting Possibilities and Real Challenges

As we mentioned last month, the latest in vehicle automation puts the trucking industry on the verge of tremendous advancements in safety, driver satisfaction, and efficiency, among other things. These advancements will translate eventually into better service and lower rates for shippers and consumers. And as technologies offer new ways for drivers to stay connected to friends and family on the road, working as a long haul truck operator could become a more appealing career for younger people.

But significant challenges to full implementation of automated vehicle technology haven’t been fully addressed yet.

-Who will regulate these new technologies?
-What will the new rules be?
-How will older truck operators adapt, and what new training and license classifications might be necessary?

Employee Displacement, or Solving a Shortage?

One of the biggest concerns for the trucking industry overall is the current driver shortage. In 2018, the industry was short more than 50,000 drivers, and that shortage is projected to increase to 175,000 drivers by 2026. As older drivers reach retirement age, the industry is having trouble recruiting younger drivers, despite the typically high starting wages and good benefits. Many younger people are reluctant to commit to positions that keep them away from friends and family for long periods of time.

As the industry looks at ways to combat this shortage, automation offers some significant advantages.

The new potential for connection with friends and family while on the road can make the career more appealing to younger drivers, potentially drawing in more workers who may have been hesitant in the past.

The possibility of training on new technologies could mean that operating a truck will help operators develop skill sets that will translate across positions and industries.

Automation allows one driver to operate a vehicle for longer periods of time, thereby taking some pressure off the industry. In addition, when self-driving trucks do arrive, they will alleviate some additional pressure in employment.

Automation could eventually lead to the possibility of one operator in a central location controlling several trucks remotely.

The Regulatory Side

Of course, these automated technologies present a host of regulatory issues for the industry overall. At the moment, manufacturers are testing AV technologies at the state level, but eventually, testing and implementation will have to cross state lines. The federal government will have to issue common rules to govern all interstate travel sooner rather than later, but at this point, legislative attempts to govern AV technology have either stalled, failed, or simply not addressed the trucking industry.

It’s always a challenge to create and implement legislation regarding technology simply because technology changes so quickly. Ideally, such legislation would need to be reviewed or revised every two to five years simply to ensure that it remained relevant to current technology.

What the Future Looks Like

Whether the industry and the government are ready for it, innovation is charging ahead. Check out some of the latest developments in the autonomous trucking world:

Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration Truck

Tesla’s fully electric Semi

Volvo Truck’s Vera system

At American Freight, we are excited about the future of autonomous vehicle technology and all the potential this technology represents. To come along for the ride, check out our career page, or visit our sister companies, FV Martin and Martin Transportation.

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