How the move toward driverless trucks will affect the truck driver workforce is a challenge that must be addressed whether the timeline toward full automation ends up short or long, according to the nation’s top truck safety regulator.
“We can argue about scope and timeline, but what we can’t argue about is that this a reality: There will be a major shift in workforce,” said Meera Joshi, acting administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), speaking Wednesday at the agency’s Analysis, Research and Technology Forum.
“If it’s your livelihood that seems like it’s being threatened, it is an immediate problem. If it is [a technology developer], it feels like things aren’t moving fast enough — the infrastructure’s not built and it seems further out. Nothing will happen overnight, but automated vehicles will certainly make inroads into the workforce.”
In January the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the request of Congress released a preliminary study assessing the affect automated driving technologies would have on the truck-driver workforce. The report found there is “vast uncertainty” about of how and when driving automation may be adopted in long-haul trucking and the associated effects on professional drivers.
But it also noted that in the long term, the adoption of Level 4 or 5 advanced driving systems “may supplant certain driving tasks and reduce the need for human drivers, leading to lower freight costs and productivity improvements, but also to periods of transitional unemployment for some affected workers.”
Joshi emphasized that it was priority of the Biden administration to “understand that there are extremely real and broad impacts to automation on people’s livelihoods,” she said.
“First and foremost, what are the opportunities, thinking about them now, for [a] shifting workforce, what are the training opportunities so that the next generation has the jobs that will be replaced by automation, and what are the additional jobs that can be created through automation that can [replace] the jobs that may not be available for drivers of tomorrow. It’s a commitment that you heard from the president and [Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg] and are hearing from me, to make sure we have our hands around how we can best prepare the workforce for this change, regardless of the timetable.”