Recently a convoy of self-automated “smart” trucks completed a European cross-border trip, concluding the first-ever cross-border experiment of its kind. The self-driving trucks began their trip from factories from as far away as Sweden and southern Germany and finished their journey in Rottersdam Harbor. The test trucks were semi-automated and, despite computers allowing them to drive by themselves, human drivers were still required on board.
While self-driving cars seem to be getting all the headlines these days, this successful test-drive across Europe serves notice that self-driving trucks may actually transform our roads first.
Undoubtedly, self-driving trucks will be a controversial issue for the industry. Advocates will say that self-driving trucks could lower shipping expenses by cutting costs and with no weary drivers, enable trucks to be on the road longer. They will say that additional savings could be achieved through fuel efficiencies, and since trucking represents a considerable portion of the cost of all the goods we buy, consumers could possibly benefit from lower costs. Of course, improved driver safety should also be considered.
Additionally, self-driving trucks could present a solution for the nation’s driver shortage. The industry shortage is currently estimated at 35,000-40,000 drivers. Meanwhile, projections call for 240,000 new drivers needed by 2023 just to keep up with freight growth.
Despite all of the potential benefits of self-driving, there is a downside to consider. Self-driving trucks could put a lot of people out of a job. While the technology gains are real – too real to pass up in some cases – there are tremendous potential adverse effects. In addition to the 1.6 million American truck drivers, who would be put at risk, the economic trickle down to truck stops, highway diners, rest stops, motels and other businesses who serve the trucking industry could be devastating.
Bottom-line, this is another example of how technology continues to shape our industry. We predict the debate regarding self-driving trucks will be a long and hard fought one.