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FMCSA chief Joshi: Drivers will take hit from automated trucks

Acting Administrator Meera Joshi sees ‘major shift’ in trucker workforce

Joshi said administration will prioritize effects of automation. (Photo: Steve Allen/FreightWaves and FMCSA)

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.”

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  1. Big dee

    Well the truck company don’t care remember truck builders are still going to be making trucks truck companies are still going to have fleets of trucks the technology will be outfitted to the truck for a rental fee per month that will be cheaper than an employee the next big law that will help this out will be slowing all the trucks down to the same speed just think when they present their products they can say this system can do the same work or better than humans because all trucks go the same speed

  2. Ken

    If this technology can truly work, why isn’t the agricultural industry fully automated? GPS guidance within an inch of last year’s crop but for some reason we don’t see the farmers operating their equipment from the porch 😎

  3. Tcs53

    The trucking industry today is where the printing industry was 30 years ago. Look where the printing industry is now! It’s all but gone, replaced by computers. Even schools don’t use books anymore,the kids use iPads. Face facts, long haul trucking is on its way out. Sure there is still going to be local jobs and maybe short haul but long haul is going away. The major carriers want it, manufacturers want it. Biden is trying to destroy the oil industry so nobody really cares about the truck stops. Next time you travel down old Route 66 and you see all the old abandoned gas stations and cafes and motels, you’re looking at what the trucking business will be in 30 years.

  4. Paul David

    Bring that technology on! The people who believe this, don’t understand trucking… ROFL
    They have had autopilot in planes for 50 years, very few planes fly without a pilot. Same principles applies.

  5. nathan

    Well what about all the companies that make $ off of the trucking industry the fuel companies, food, all the electronics, mechanics etc I would think they be in Washington screaming their lungs out about this i wonder if their fighting against this ?

  6. jake

    Consciousness something all this developers don’t even think about only a human being who has actually driven a 18 wheeler truck will know how to handle a truck surrounded by humans automated features in truck yes but driverless trucks not anytime soon build new road and tunnels for it it may be the way

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.