The death of the trucker? ELDs and self-driving trucks

With the newly rolled-out regulations requiring drivers of trucks to use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and the increasing advancements in autonomous vehicles, what does this mean for truckers?
10 April 2018

Tesla’s semi-autonomous truck with possible sensor sites highlighted, Source: Reuters/Alexandria Sage

As of this week, a hotly debated topic in the US trucking community, the monitoring and enforcement of truckers’ hours through electronic logging devices (ELDs) will officially roll out.

In line with the new regulations, ELDs are now required to record how long a trucker spends behind the wheel; 14-hour shift, with a maximum of 11 hours of driving.

Those drivers who do not stick to the regulations risk a penalty of a 10-hour sidelining; a costly punishment for truckers who have strict deadlines to stick to.

The ELD tracking was originally intended to roll out in December 2017, but due to compatibility issues between the devices, certain trucks, as well as the readers used by police officers, the deadline was forced to be extended.

Why the new regulations?

The core reason that pushed forward the ELD rule is that sleepy, overworked drivers cause accidents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests that a loss of sleep may contribute to 30 to 40 percent of all crashes on the highways.

Ever since 1934, Hours of Service laws were brought in to limit the time spent driving between periods of rest. Before this week, however, drivers were able to log their hours with pen and paper- a system which was open to a lot of “wiggle” room.

Honk if you’re angry

But now a piece of tech is replacing the old pen and paper system, truckers can no longer make a sneaky alteration to their hours. And they aren’t happy about it.

According to truckers, the devices will significantly limit their driving time and reduce their earning potential.

Workers in the trucking industry argue that these tightened regulations simply do not work. Truckers have very little control over their schedules due to bad weather, unexpected traffic jams, as well as shippers and recipients of the delivery keeping trucks idle for hours at a time.

In a bid to fight back against the new regulations, truckers are threatening to strike with a #ELDorme (ELD or me) campaign, which could cause havoc for the supply chains of many companies.

The bigger worry: self-driving trucks

But perhaps what’s more of a concern for truckers than a tech device that monitors their driving patterns is the surge of self-driving trucks. According to Rolling Stone, the trucking industry is heading to the same fate as the rapid decline in factory work due to over-taking technology.

From 2000 to 2010, American factories experience a soar in output- however with this came the slashing of 5.6 million jobs. According to research from Ball State University, automation and other tech advances are what drove 88 percent of these layoffs.

According to a McKinsey report, by 2027 the trucking industry will consist of 85 percent automation and nearly 1.5 million jobs lost.

It seems that self-driving trucks are no longer just a tale of a science-fiction movie. In October 2016, Otto, an Uber subsidiary, dispatched an automated rig carrying 2000 cases of Budweiser. The automated truck traveled 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs- though with a trained safety operator on deck to take over if needed.

Driverless trucks and leaving the testing ground and hitting the open road. Source: Shutterstock

Earlier this year, a small startup called Starsky Robotics sent their driverless truck for a seven-mile journey with nobody riding shotgun. The startup expects to start making completely driverless deliveries by the end of 2018.

While many truckers are wary of driverless vehicles taking over their jobs, some argue that automation will, in fact, be good for everyone.

Not only will it address the current driver shortage, but it will also create more jobs, according to Freight Waves.

Automated trucks will improve efficiency on long-haul routes, lowering the overall cost of trucking and therefore will reduce the total cost of goods being shipped.

With the cost of goods being cheaper, demand from consumers will be greater. And with more goods needing to be shipped, truck freight volume is driven up.

“In this scenario, when 1 million self-driving trucks are operating on highways, you would expect to see close to 1 million jobs shift from long haul to local haul, plus about 400,000 new truck driving jobs will be needed to keep up with the higher demand,” reports Freight Waves.

Will automated-trucks and ELD’s drive the future careers of truckers to become roadkill? Only time will tell.