self driving truck
January 4, 2017

Driverless trucks threaten millions of jobs, and we aren’t ready

The spread of self-driving tractor-trailers across the shipping industry could jeopardize the jobs of almost 1.7 million truck drivers, according to new research published last month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

The report said the jobs of between 1.3 million and 1.7 million truck drivers could be in danger as a result of the growing usage of hauling vehicles that use artificial intelligence software in lieu of a driver. According to multiple estimates, there are around 3.4 million commercial truck drivers currently working in the US.

The CEA report also said between 160,000 and 500,000 light truck or delivery service drivers might also be at risk due to self-driving vehicles. Based on the progress of self-driving technology, those jobs are safer because those drivers work in more densely-populated areas where the chance of pedestrian deaths or injuries would be higher if self-driving vehicles were used. Furthermore, many of these delivery drivers cover short distances, so labor costs would be a smaller factor.

Technology Threatens to Replace Millions of Jobs

All told, the use of self-driving vehicles would threaten between 2.2 million and 3.1 million jobs, the CEA report said.

The Council noted that its calculations did not consider the number or kinds of new jobs that may be produced due to this transition to driverless trucks. It added that any shifts in the shipping industry could take years or decades to work out, due to a big lag between what it known as "technological possibility" and extensive adoption.

In the last year or so, there has been a growing amount of interest in the use of self-driving tractor-trailers. Some observers have theorized that the use of self-driving trucks will involve human drivers riding in or alongside the vehicle, only taking control in case of an emergency.

If fully utilized, self-driving trucks could significantly lower labor costs while fixing the chronic problem of sourcing qualified drivers – a tantalizing prospect an industry that is expecting a major labor shortage in the coming years.

About one year ago, CEA released a report that said there is a greater than an 80-percent chance that automation will take the place of American employees making less than $20 an hour. The report also said there is 30-percent chance automation will take the place of employees making between $20 and $40 an hour. People making greater than $40 an hour aren't expected to be replaced by automation anytime soon, according to the CEA.

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