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A breakdown of automation in the trucking industry

10.22.2019 - 12:15 PM Comments: 0

Automation in the trucking industry has long been a worry for many truck drivers, who have concerns over losing their jobs or having to adapt to new technology. 

The integration of automation in the trucking industry is seemingly inevitable, and most experts do acknowledge that it will lead to loss of employment for many, however, they don’t expect it to all hit at once. 

In an article posted on Trucks.com by research director of Interact Analysis Alastair Hayfield, he says that while he does expect there to be a decline in work for drivers, it’ll likely be a gradual reduction, and he also offers other options within the trucking industry for drivers. 

“Freed from driving, the time drivers spend in the vehicles headed to a destination will likely be used to increase their productivity,” said Hayfield. “There are new roles, such as teleoperator, emerging that will likely support some driver roles. Rather than falling over a cliff edge, Interact Analysis believes there will be a gradual reduction in employment within the trucking industry.”

The shift into automation is slowly becoming the industry’s most dramatic pivot to date and could leave many older drivers in the rearview if the integration is not handled carefully.

In a 2014 report, the American Transportation Research Institute found that more than half (53.3 percent) of truck drivers were between the ages of 35-54, meaning that the collection of drivers currently in the industry could potentially face real issues adapting to new technology.

The FMCSA is continually working towards coming to a decision on how to safely integrate the technology and will be working in levels to get there.

In the final stages of the integration (Levels 4 and 5) driver will be involved, but slowly phased out when Level 5 comes along. 

Throughout Level 4, drivers will be present in the Automated Driving Systems (ADS)-equipped vehicle, but will only drive situationally. An example of one of these circumstances would be allowing ADS-equipped vehicles to drive on the highways, while human drivers take control of the vehicle while driving through a city.

According to Hayfield, platooning-- which he describes as “two or more trucks [driving] at highway speed near one another, gaining an aerodynamic benefit and reducing fuel consumption”--will potentially be the technology of choice at least until 2030. 

Heyfield says that platooning is being pushed as a safety and efficiency solution, not as a driver replacement technology, meaning that while drivers may not be behind the wheel, they’ll still be able to be employed.

In addition, the increases in crashes since the implementation of CSA scores since 2010 has also boosted the idea of automation, as well as the continued shortage of drivers the industry has faced. Automation’s lack of dependency on drivers eliminates the issue that a shortage creates, while also being a safer option.

Safety has been an important topic of discussion within the trucking industry for years. In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing that deaths involving a large truck had increased by 9 percent (4,889 total deaths). The trend has continuously increased since 2009’s low of 3,432, which has been a 42 percent growth in 8 years. 

As the trend increases, experts continue to point to safety as one important reason for automation to be implemented. As noted in a report by Securing America’s Future Energy, the societal impact of crash and quality-of-life costs were approximately $1 trillion. With automated vehicles (not just CMVs),  crashes resulting from gross driver error (distraction, alcohol, and speeding which contribute to over 94 percent of accidents) would be eliminated and the annual benefit would exceed $500 billion.

While the full scope of automation is nearly impossible to cover, the fact that automation could very well lead to more safety and financial benefits for companies has made the integration much more appealing to many. 

Nevertheless, truck drivers are still in high demand today and will continue to be for the foreseeable future considering the current shortage of drivers. At the end of the day, it will be up to lawmakers and companies to integrate the technology responsibly and safely, while also taking the future of truck drivers into consideration.  

So what do you think, are ADS-equipped vehicles a good idea? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

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