Will Automated Drivers Replace Real Ones?

The need for truck drivers is at an all-time high, yet the number of available operators has struggled to keep up for some time. Currently, there’s a shortage of 60,000 drivers, and that number could double in a few years as ecommerce continues to grow at a rapid rate. 

Some tech insiders and financiers, however, have questioned how long the driver shortage will last. With the rise of automated vehicles, will we see the need for actual truck drivers start to disappear? 

Companies like Google, Uber, Tesla, and Ford are investing billions of dollars into self-driving and automated technology. In some cases, these are for the consumer market, replacing the need for taxi drivers, ride-share drivers, delivery drivers, etc. Uber believes automated transportation vehicles could achieve such a low cost that they’d be cheaper to utilize than owning your own car.  

But automated commercial trucking is actively being tested as well. 

The Advantages of Automation are Obvious to Freight Companies 

An AI system doesn’t need to sleep. It doesn’t get sick. It follows instructions without questions. Outside of upfront setup costs, it doesn’t need to be paid. 

And theoretically, it can be safer to use an automated system. Over 90% of car accidents are thought to involve human error. With highly accurate computing power, these accidents could theoretically be eliminated. 

Still, there are many unknowns. Automated testing is largely performed in open country with good weather conditions. How well will an AI system do in a crowded metro area? How will it adjust to icy road conditions? 

And how long would it be before a glitch or calculation error results in the death of an unsuspecting driver sharing the road with the truck? 

Should an automated vehicle cause an accident of any kind, who would even be at fault? 

The Legality of Driverless Vehicles 

With any new technology or method of doing business, a host of legal questions arise. Especially in a case where you’re replacing a person with a machine. Currently, autonomous driving is heavily restricted and only allowed in 26 states. Even then, a human driver is required to be present in most instances. 

As for liability, the laws currently in place leave some serious loop-holes when it comes to a lack of a driver. 

New laws are currently being worked on, but they range from vague to concerning. One bill called the “AV Start Act” exists to protect technology developers, should a passenger be injured while riding in a self-driving car. 

Drivers are Likely to Be Kept as a Failsafe for the Foreseeable Future 

There are millions of semi-trucks on the road every day. With all the uncertainty surrounding autonomous driving, it’s fair to say we’re a ways away from seeing all these trucks controlled by computers.  

Even as autonomous trucks start to hit the road, they will almost certainly feature a driver at the wheel. 

Modern airplanes, by comparison, can perform most of their functions without the need for any pilot, including take-off and landing. Yet, commercial airlines still have two pilots onboard for safety and security. 

Still, many experts do agree that it is a when, not an if, regarding automated drivers. Should the day come, it will almost certainly start with basic driving jobs: taxis, buses, Ubers, food delivery, etc. There are talks of automated mail service, though dropping off packages is a particular challenge that needs to be solved first. 

With truck drivers, there are similar responsibilities such as loading and unloading. Even refilling the gas tank poses a challenge. 

As automation is introduced, we’ll likely see operators’ responsibilities shift, rather than disappear. Tim Smith, general manager of business strategy at Navistar International Corp. says, “They’ll become more highly trained and skilled and will be employed to manage multiple vehicle assets and use autopilot-like technology to improve efficiency and reduce risk.” 

We could also see a future where operators control or oversee vehicles remotely, allowing them to drive across country without leaving their hometown. 

Whatever the future may hold, it doesn’t change the fact that now is a great time to enter the trucking industry. At Woodruff Enterprises, we want truck drivers in Charlotte, Chicago, Baltimore, Springfield, and beyond. 

We offer great pay, benefits, quality home time, and more. Click here to learn more about our current opportunities.  

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