Will autonomous trucking put an end to trucking jobs?

If policymakers don't act now, autonomous trucks will disrupt more than just the logistics industry.
18 September 2018

How will autonomous trucks change the world? Source: Shutterstock

Driverless, autonomous trucks, powered by the same technology as self-driving cars, are making many headlines these days.

However, the industry is still trying to make sense of what it all means for them — whether the technology will actually reduce the number of human drivers needed and how easy will it be to adopt and use these new vehicles.

According to recent research by UC Berkeley, autonomous trucks will have quite a pronounced effect on the future of American truckers, but it won’t take all the jobs away.

In their opinion, autonomous trucks could replace as many as 294,000 long-distance driving jobs — as against the 2.1 million forecast by other studies.

Of those 294,000 jobs at risk, 83,000 jobs that offer stable careers and average annual earnings between US$60,000 and US$70,000 per driver and 211,000 jobs offer annual earnings average between US$46,000 and US$53,000.

And although many other freight-moving jobs will be created, research suggests that these will be local driving and last-mile delivery jobs that offer lower wages and offer poor working conditions. It seems as though the future of truckers is quite gloomy.

Who can save the world’s truckers?

Policymakers are in a unique position to enact laws that can ensure truckers aren’t marginalized or disadvantaged when autonomous vehicles make a debut on the streets.

“Policymakers, collaborating with workers and industry leaders, have an opportunity to tackle some of our biggest challenges: creating good, family-supporting jobs, improving road safety, and reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions,” according to Dr. Steve Viscelli, a sociologist and trucking expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are three suggestions Vicelli offers to policymakers looking to protect trucking jobs in the age of autonomous vehicles:

# 1 | Develop an industry-wide approach to worker advancement and stability

Policymakers should consider creating a council comprising of diverse stakeholders across the sector — workers, employers, technologists, and policymakers—to ensure everyone has a voice in how the industry is shaped.

The council should develop and implement an action plan for how industry stakeholders fund, design, and carry out policies and programs to develop good career pathways for incumbent, dislocated, and future workers, and to create safety-net programs to support transitions within and out of the industry.

# 2 | Ensure strong labor standards and worker protections

Policymakers should establish a framework of strong labor standards that can shape the impact of autonomous trucks, ensuring high-quality trucking jobs continue to exists.

Specific emphasis should be laid on policies that address independent contractor misclassification and wage theft, expand early warning systems in the case of layoffs, and explore new ways to establish good jobs in the industry and strengthen workers’ right to organize.

# 3 | Promote innovation that achieves social, economic, and environmental goals

Policymakers must understand how autonomous trucks can impact society, economics, and the environment in the larger scheme of things, and formulate laws accordingly.

Examples of specific policies include engaging stakeholders to develop a shared innovation agenda and leveraging public research funding to implement it, allowing state and local governments to experiment with new policy responses, and ensuring that public dollars and policies do not subsidize the displacement of workers.