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How far are we from automation in trucking?

01.24.2020 - 12:24 PM Comments: 0

Technological advances in the trucking industry are seemingly leading to one seismic shift: automation

In truth, automation in the trucking industry will not be a possibility anytime soon, according to an abundance of industry experts. As of now, self-driving trucks are still a long shot, as automated technology is being introduced in levels.

The levels of automation are as follows according to Car and Driver: Level 1, driver assistance; Level 2, partial automation; Level 3, conditional automation; Level 4, high automation; and Level 5, full automation. 

As of now, Levels 1-3 are available on the market for regular vehicles, but level 4 and 5 have only been prototyped. In terms of being concerned about job losses, though, levels 4 and 5 should be the most concerning for truckers.

At level 4, vehicles will be able to drive themselves, but require a person to be behind the wheel. Once level 5 is reached, automation will be fully available and vehicles should be able to drive themselves.

According to the research director of Interact Analysis, Alastair Hayfield, many carriers with automated trucks will likely be deploying a strategy called “platooning,” per a piece he wrote on Platooning is described as “two or more trucks [driving] at highway speeds near one another, gaining an aerodynamic benefit and reducing fuel consumption.”

In the article, Hayfield also says that platooning will be pushed as a safety and efficiency solution, not as a driver replacement technology. In other words, while drivers will no longer be behind the wheel, they’ll still be playing a role in the shipment of freight. 

With that said, Hayfield also explains that even platooning, let alone full-on automation, won’t be the technology of choice until 2030.

Nevertheless, not all experts agree with Hayfield’s assertions. Others, such as Flexport founder Ryan Peterson, believe that automation will be commonplace within the next 10 years. 

“Labor accounts for 75% of the cost of transporting shipments by truck, so adopters can begin to realize those savings,” he told The Guardian. “Beyond that, while truckers are prohibited from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an eight-hour break, a driverless truck can drive for the entire day.”

At this point, many believe that automation in the industry is inevitable, so once we get to that point, what should truckers expect?

Well, there is not a definitive answer, although many continue to speculate. At the highest levels of automation (levels 4 and 5), some believe that truckers may still be involved in the process even if they’re not behind the wheel.

While many have focused on job loss as a whole (which is also still a legitimate concern), many have not focused on how truckers can be affected economically even if they’re still able to be employed.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note how the trucking profession itself will likely change. Without being a major part of transporting freight, it’s possible that truckers can see a dip in wages. 

A dip in wages, due to being less essential in the shipping process, would be disastrous for the profession as a whole. If wages and freight prices aren’t what they should be now, it isn’t crazy to see how bad they can get once truckers are deemed to be less important. 

Additionally, job loss is also going to be a constant concern. While some believe that the numbers may be heavily overstated, jobs lost throughout automation’s implementation may well be in the millions. 

The fact is, a shift to automation will leave many, if not all, older drivers in the rearview, as they will have a harder time learning all the technological developments that will be necessary to help maintain and run an automated vehicle.

And with the industry being made up of more than half (53.3 percent) of truck drivers aged between 35-54, it isn’t farfetched to believe that many will be facing unemployment. In addition, truckers may also leave the industry just from the fear of being replaced, while others may not even join the trucking workforce in the first place if they believe they’ll soon be out of a job.

While there are many avenues the trucking industry can utilize in the coming years, one thing is clear: trucking automation as a whole will have a devastating effect on those who matter most—the people.

So, what do you think about automation and self-driving trucks? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

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