Based on what just happened, probably.
We all know about the rapid development of autonomous vehicles and how they’ll change the way we drive (or not) in the coming years. But what about commercial trucks? Last month we reported that Germany and the UK have allowed for autonomous big rigs to test on the Autobahn and M6, respectively. And earlier this month, a convoy of six self-driving trucks successfully drove across Europe in a jointly coordinated experiment. No need for drivers. No need to pay those drivers. Does this mean the end of the truck driving profession?
TechCrunch explored this issue further and learned that, at the moment, it costs roughly $4,500 to ship a full truckload from Los Angeles to New York, with labor alone making up 75 percent of that cost. Furthermore, without the need for a human driver, self-driving trucks would also be more efficient because, by law, drivers must take an 8-hour break after driving 11 hours. A fully autonomous truck, by comparison, could go for 24 hours straight. The computer tech would control speed in order to optimize efficiency. Often times, drivers are paid by the mile and, therefore, drive faster and will end up using more fuel. And because money will be saved on the fuel itself, these savings will, in theory, be passed on to you, the dear consumer.
So yeah, sounds great – except for the 1.6 million Americans who work as truck drivers. In fact, it’s the most common job in 29 states. This would represent a loss of one percent of the US workforce, and it likely won’t stop there. What about those who work at highway truck stops and restaurants, gas stations, and all of those shady motels? On the bright side, Tech Crunch claims the average age for a commercial driver is 55 and it rises every year. Young people don’t want this job and the trucking industry is already fully aware of future driver shortages. Still though, a decision between eliminating the truck driver profession (and related fields) versus a “400 percent price-performance improvement in ground transportation networks” could be coming.