Long Haul Trucking on Cruise Control

The world of trucking will radically change as driverless trucks start being deployed on the road.

Trucking is Real Big Business

On any given day, more than 2 million professional truckers drive on U.S. roadways – hauling everything from whipped cream to steaks to water faucets. Ninety-six percent of them are male.

In the coming era of driverless cars and trucks, most of these guys will have to find new work.

The Republican government is promising to keep jobs in the U.S. Yet, companies like Otto and Peloton are creating the technology (here in the U.S.!) that will likely put many of those 2 million truckers on the unemployment line.

Truckers, of course, are represented by powerful unions, who’ll work hard to keep their members behind the wheel. But technology has a way of foiling even the most determined plans. Toll collectors had a strong union, too. But the growth of E-Z Pass and other electronic collection methods have reduced the number of U.S. toll collectors by nearly 80 percent since 2000. Those jobs did not go to Mexico, and they’re not coming back.

The economics are compelling. The labor cost of driving a rig across the U.S. exceeds $2,000. With a driverless truck, that would drop to near zero, eliminating about 30 percent of the entire trucking cost. And, with drivers, by law, required to rest about half of any working day, the time-to-destination can be cut in half.

  Related: Amazon’s Flying Warehouses

There’s No Regulation Like Self-Regulation

The industry is, sort of, self-regulating itself anyway. At present, there’s a shortage of about 44,000 needed truckers, and that’s expected to grow to 100,000 by 2020. Apparently, some new recruits are smelling the coffee and refraining from entering the profession. The shortage is likely to increase – the average age of a long-haul or OTR (over the road) truck driver is 49. Meaning, that nearly half of all current truckers should be retired by the time they’ll hand the wheel over to a computer.

There’s no question, though, that the movement towards driverless trucks will be massively disruptive. It’s not only the 3.5 million licensed OTR truck drivers working for 1.2 million different companies. Their support industry (loaders, road stop personnel, maintenance, etc.) includes another 7 million workers. While many in the latter category will still be needed, we’re still looking at over 4 million people being put out of work.

  RelatedTo Err is Human. We Can Stop That.

Do We Want Driverless Trucks on Our Highways?

Still, it’s not clear that our society is comfortable with fully-loaded, 26,000 lb. eighteen-wheelers barreling down the highway, with no human oversight on board. We’ve mostly gotten OK with that for trains – though they’re segregated to separate roadways not trafficked by humans.

And that’s a reasonable approach for getting the benefit of long-haul driverless trucks without the attendant risks – create truck-only segregated lanes on the Interstate, so risks are contained.  

The job-creation infrastructure associated with that will likely bring joy to our Builder-in-Chief. It may even require more human labor than will be lost by eliminating the need for truck drivers.

In the short-term, anyway.

In the long-run, though, the trend is clear. Most of those 3.5 million long-haul trucking jobs are going to disappear. Or, to paraphrase Willie & Waylon: “Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be truckers.”

Article written by: Charles Bogle 3.0.  Submitted: 3/8/17

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