Can autonomous trucks solve the driver shortage?

15C466_001.jpg

The push for autonomous vehicles is gaining more traction as it is provides an easy solution to the worsening driver shortage. Greg Nichols, writing for ZDNet, says the obvious reason is that “millennials don’t want to drive trucks.” So, despite the presence of young blood in the workforce, most of it is not willing to fill the 50,000 vacant driving jobs.

That was the number given by the American Trucking Association’s chief economist, Bob Costello. The research provides the statistical data to back up what many have believed – the lack of drivers is getting worse. “Now that freight volume’s accelerating again, we should expect to see a significant tightening of the driver market,” Costello said.

Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress, said the company has 100% turnover. “We have to hire 7,000 drivers a year to keep even,” he told the Times Free Press.

The development of autonomous vehicles could help cure the shortage someday. Truck manufacturers like Freightliner and Peterbilt are working to develop autonomous vehicles. Even semi-autonomous vehicles got a manufacturing boost. Startups like Embark are working on semi-autonomous vehicles where drivers may remotely control the trucks.

Freightliner was the first company to achieve a license to test a semi-autonomous truck, but the first truly autonomous truck on American highways is being used by the Colorado Department of Transportation. In partnership with Royal Truck & Equipment, Colas UK and the Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, CDOT rolled out the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle, a “crash” truck that follows workers on roadside worksites.

The one thing that stops robots from taking jobs away from people through the trucking industry is the need for a human to operate the engine.

“Tomorrow’s professional truck driver may be analogous to an airplane pilot, where the much [sic] of the function is automated but the human element is still critical,” said Brian Felkow, president of Jetco Delivery. “Even though the technology is clearly here for self-driving trucks, I do not see self-driving trucks decreasing the demand for professional drivers any time soon.”

Long hours spent on the road can take a toll on the person assigned to pilot a truck, but no matter how advanced truck-related technology gets, it can never be smarter than a professional human being.

Stay up-to-date with the latest commentary and insights on FreightTech and the impact to the markets by subscribing.