When are driver jobs automated?

Self-driving trucks & truck drivers: a contradiction in terms

Self-driving trucks & truck drivers: a contradiction in terms

Since investors invested over 810 million euros in technologies for self-driving vehicles in 2017, the acceptance of autonomous driving will develop rapidly in the next few years. There is good reason to celebrate given the benefits this technology can bring to the logistics industry.

But truckers, who are a fundamental aspect of trucking and are to be supplanted by self-driving trucks, naturally have concerns. Goldman Sachs expects nearly 300,000 driving jobs to disappear due to automation, while companies developing the technology themselves, e.g. B. Uber, claim that more surveillance drivers are needed to cope with the increased delivery loads that come with the falling delivery costs of automated driving. Perhaps both scenarios will also materialize.

Scenario 1: Reduction of the truck driver jobs

Our human limits are a strong argument in favor of automation. These restrictions mean, for example, that truck drivers are limited to 11-hour days or 60-hour weeks on the road - a restriction that does not apply to an automated truck and enables 24/7 delivery capability. In addition, drivers must be paid, which is 34% of the operating cost per mile (1.6 km). Given these facts, with a human driver's need for rest combined with human error proneness (which kills thousands of people each year), it's no wonder Suncor Energy Inc. recently announced its plans to replace 400 heavy truck drivers with self-driving trucks on oil sands quarries.

But when we talk about human limits, it is only fair to remember that robots also remain flawed in their sanity and dexterity, requiring human intervention at this stage of automated driving. That is why optimists predict that self-driving trucks will create new, better conditions for the truck drivers of today and tomorrow, rather than cutting jobs.

Scenario 2: Truck driver jobs will remain and will be improved

Truck driver jobs are known to be strenuous and not very varied. Isolated, exhausting, sitting and underpaid hours on the street contribute to a significant turnover rate of 90% per year. With an average annual income of 32,500 euros and an average age of 49 years, such a high fluctuation rate is easy to understand. But given the low salary, one would expect a high supply of willing truck drivers - which is simply not the case.

In the US alone, 50,000 truck drivers are missing today - a number that is set to climb to 250,000 by 2022 as deliveries become more frequent. In view of this scarcity, automation can help to relieve not only the logistics companies but also the drivers themselves.

This deficiency can therefore be remedied in two ways through automation: First, a truck driver can work from a pseudo call center without the need for additional drivers. In this case, truck drivers could drive between 10 and 30 trucks in an 8-hour shift so they can work on site and return to their families at the end of the day. In this case, truck drivers would take control of the truck, for example when it is driving near construction zones or in urban centers. At the same time, this reduces the need for more drivers and improves the working conditions of the current drivers.

The demand for 250,000 additional drivers by 2022 could be met by switching to self-driving trucks and the associated change in job description. In scenarios where truck drivers have to sit in the (self-driving) truck (as opposed to working in call centers), drivers can rest their eyes and focus on different things while the truck glides along the highway. For example, truck drivers can do paperwork, start a new hobby or chat with friends, but only if they are sure that they can take over the truck when necessary (e.g. in construction areas or urban areas). However, the oversight function will certainly attract a greater number of workers than is the case today.

Still, the future of truck drivers in response to self-driving trucks remains unclear. If there is less demand, will wages fall even further than they are already? Or are wages increased in line with the higher education required to work with these technologies? With current estimates that 900,000 new drivers will be needed in the next 8 years, it is difficult to know where the fate of the trucking profession is headed.