Experts have warned that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate job losses to automation, but truck drivers, who have played an essential role throughout the domestic outbreak, may not be among the workers most seriously affected.
More than 3 million commercial vehicle drivers work in the United States, which means autonomous technologies stand to be “highly disruptive” for drivers, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a study.
However, developers still have a long way to go before truly driverless trucks can replace humans, experts say.
“The variability and complexity of real-world driving conditions require levels of situational adaptability that current technologies have not yet mastered,” the report read. “A great deal of testing, verification, and proving still needs to occur before AVs displace traditional automobiles.”
The study added that many companies are scaling back plans for deploying driverless vehicles, while others are focusing on adding technologies to aid the driver rather than replace him or her.
Brian Fielkow, president of multimillion-dollar trucking and logistics company Jetco Delivery, told FOX Business earlier this year that he thought technology would simply cause truck drivers’ roles to evolve.
“Technology is going to bring the driver into the truck, not push them out,” Fielkow said. “[It will] redefine the role of the driver.”
Fielkow also pointed out that there are still a number of hurdles that need to be cleared before truly driverless trucks will be prevalent on the roads, including revamping the nation’s infrastructure, updating liability protections and allowing the public to become comfortable with the idea.
John Kearney, president and CEO of Advanced Training Systems, told FOX Business that new technologies could actually improve safety.
Truck drivers are traditionally near the top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the country’s most deadly occupations.
Some companies that are working on self-driving trucking technologies include Tesla, Waymo and Uber.
Waymo, which is Google’s self-driving vehicle project, has tested its self-driving class 8 trucks in a handful of states, including California and Texas.
Meanwhile, companies throughout the United States are having a hard time finding qualified drivers. According to data from the American Trucking Associations, the industry was short 60,800 drivers in 2018, a number that could balloon to 160,000 drivers in 2028.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has removed some capacity from the market throughout recent months.