The Truck Driver Shortage Won't Last In Self-Driving Era

Photo Credit: Jens Wolf / Epa/Shutterstock
September 6, 2018

By Bridgette Webb

Autonomous vehicles may be the way of the future, but the tech could mean trouble for workers in the transportation industry ー especially those in trucking.

According to new research by sociologist Steve Viscelli, self-driving tech may replace nearly 300,000 truck-driving jobs in the next 25 years.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Smith said the impact will be most felt among the top-paid workers in the industry.

"A lot of the main trucking jobs in the country, [get] paid quite well, considering what the work is," Smith said Thursday in an interview on Cheddar.

"There are limits to how long human drivers can drive, that's put limits on how quickly freight can get to one point to another," she said.

And that's what makes autonomous systems such a focus for the industry. Smith said many proponents believe the technology will ultimately reduce transport time and dramatically lower freight costs.

But despite the advances in self-driving tech, mass adoption is still a far-off future for the U.S.

Recent accidents and fatalities involving autonomous cars have exposed major problems with the technology and have prompted questions of infrastructure and the vehicles' preparedness.

Then there’s the correlation between the gig economy and the fall of trucking jobs. Viscelli's research study partly blamed the rise of independent contracting for the decline of truckers' fortunes.

It's also a matter of contractor classifications, which Smith said have "been under dispute."

She cited California, where several truckers have brought lawsuits against companies that have said workers "are not allowed to drive for other trucking companies ー that [these truckers] really are employees, not independent contractor."

But, conversely, Smith said that not all truckers are dissatisfied with the business. So the complexity continues.

"Other drivers who own their trucks say working as independent contractors gives them control over their schedules and lets them seek out the most profitable freight to move," she said in an email to Cheddar.

For full interview click here.