America’s 1.8 million truck drivers don’t need to worry about autonomous tech threatening their jobs anytime soon, experts say

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The trucking industry is expected to be disrupted by driverless technology in the coming decades.
There are 1.8 million truck drivers in the US.
While tech companies are keen on saying that all of those drivers will be replaced by autonomous technology, transportation analysts disagree.

When I tell people I cover trucking, they’re usually quick to offer up one of two hot takes.

The first concerns “the truck-driver shortage,” usually helped along by headlines like “America has a massive truck driver shortage. Here’s why few want an $80,000 job.” (The median trucker salary is actually about $42,000.) While firms are certainly struggling to recruit new truck drivers, it’s not usually mentioned in these discussions of a shortage that driver salaries are as much as 50% lower than what they were in the 1970s.

The second, more common thing people ask about is self-driving cars. I’m often asked if America’s truck drivers are all going to be unemployed pretty soon as autonomous technology renders their jobs redundant.

Tech leaders and financiers alike are confident that self-driving trucks will become the norm as early as in the next decade, phasing out around 1.8 million truck-driving jobs and saving the industry an estimated $300 billion.

It would be a massive issue for truck drivers. The federal government estimated there are 1.8 million heavy-duty truck drivers in the US, though the American Trucking Associations estimated there are as many as 3.5 million. Indeed, the most common job title in the majority of states is “truck driver.” The average one is about 55, which basically leaves out the possibility for retraining.

At the same time, autonomous vehicles would save the trucking industry billions and increase fuel efficiency, according to a Morgan Stanley report. Labor savings alone would cut costs $70 billion per year, and productivity would be up 30% because driverless trucks would run 24/7.

Robots may replace as many as 800 million workers by 2030; they’ve already displaced key blue-collar jobs across the US.

But are truck drivers next? According to most trucking industry analysts, probably not.

First of all, there’s the legal problem

Donald Broughton, the managing partner of transportation-analysis firm Broughton Capital, said it’s true that self-driving trucks won’t be barreling down the highway in the next five years.

“Everybody is talking about, ‘Ooh, it’s cool technology,’ without considering the legal component,” Broughton previously told me.

That legal issue: There’s no clear path to suing a self-driving truck who hits and kills those outside of the truck. In 2016, 3,326 passenger-vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians died in large-truck crashes. (Around 80% of car-truck crashes were caused by the passenger vehicles, not the truck.)

Read more: Driverless technology might actually add as many jobs as it destroys, but the new roles will be ‘the worst trucking jobs around’

In cases where the trucker was at fault, the plaintiff might sue the truck driver, the trucking company who hired the driver, …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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