autonomous Photo: Daimler AG
In the future, autonomous trucks could be used for long stretches of open highway, the report said.

Report warns autonomous tech to result in loss of higher paying driving jobs

“If current conditions seen in much of the trucking industry prevail — and it’s likely they will, if policy doesn’t change — the jobs created by autonomous trucks will pay far less than the jobs we might lose,” the report said.

A new study claims autonomous trucks could eliminate as many as 294,000 total driving positions over the next 25 years, including a significant number of the highest-paying jobs.

The research from Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said many new positions will be developed from ongoing technological and supply chain shifts. However, these will generally be for local and last-mile deliveries - jobs that generally have lower wages than other trucking sectors.

“Throughout this transformation, public policy will play a fundamental role in determining whether we have a safe, efficient trucking sector with good jobs or whether automation will exacerbate the problems that already pervade some segments of the industry,” the report said.

More than 50,000 less-than-truckload drivers and 30,000 parcel drivers could be replaced over the next quarter-century from automation, Viscelli wrote. Also, an estimated 211,000 truckload jobs could be lost.

These positions tend to be higher paying than local drivers, the report said. At the extremes, the salary difference could be more than double.

“If current conditions seen in much of the trucking industry prevail — and it’s likely they will, if policy doesn’t change — the jobs created by autonomous trucks will pay far less than the jobs we might lose,” the report said. “The risk of autonomous trucks is not that there won’t be enough jobs for American truckers, it’s that there won’t be enough good jobs.”

The report lays out a future scenario where local human drivers bring trailers from factories and warehouses to “autonomous truck ports,” located on the outskirts of cities near major interstate exits.

At that point, they will swap the trailers over to autonomous tractors for long stretches of highway driving.

Viscelli, who worked as a truck driver while researching a 2016 book, “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream,” based the findings of this study on interviews with computer scientists, Silicon Valley tech companies, venture capitalists, truck manufacturers, trucking fleets, drivers, unions, and others stakeholders.

 

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