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The Impact of Automation on Truck Driver Employment and House Hearing Insights

09/21/2023 18:34

Automation has been a buzzword in the transportation industry for several years now. With the advent of new technologies, particularly autonomous vehicles, there has been a growing concern about the impact of automation on truck driver employment. This issue has been at the forefront of discussions in the House of Representatives, with several hearings held to assess the potential impact of automation on the industry and its workforce.

As automation continues to disrupt traditional industries, it is important to assess the potential impacts on the workforce. In the trucking industry, there are concerns about the displacement of drivers with the increasing use of autonomous vehicles. However, there are also opportunities for innovation and job creation in related fields such as software development and maintenance.

In this blog post, we will delve into the current state of automation in the trucking industry and its potential impact on truck driver employment. We will also share insights from the recent House hearings on this issue and what they mean for the future of the trucking industry.

Lawmakers, ATA debate question of job creation versus displacement

The prospect of technology taking over jobs has become a major apprehension for various industries. This topic was highlighted on Wednesday at a hearing on the future of autonomous trucking in Capitol Hill. Chris Spear, representing the biggest companies in the industry, spoke in defense of automation. He argued that it is necessary to attract more drivers to the industry, rather than displacing them. This statement attempts to allay concerns about the impact of automation on employment in the trucking industry.

During a hearing with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittee on highways and transit, Chris Spear stated that a driver shortage is currently impacting the trucking industry. However, he reassured the committee that job displacement is not a concern at this time.

Spear also discussed the potential benefits of autonomous trucking technology, which could help alleviate the driver shortage by automating certain driving tasks and making the job less stressful. By implementing these innovations, the industry may be able to meet the growing demand for freight transportation.

What is the Current Demand for Drivers

The speaker acknowledged the significance of innovation in the transportation industry, particularly with regard to developing driver-assist technologies that can lead to fully autonomous commercial vehicles.

However, he emphasized that such advancements should not be viewed as a threat to human drivers. The demand for drivers will still need to be met in the coming years, whether by adding more drivers or supplementing the workforce with technology. The speaker firmly believes that no driver should feel that their job is in danger.

Democratic legislators had a different perspective regarding the impact of autonomous trucks on job creation versus job displacement. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the ranking member of the Subcommittee, and Washington's nonvoting delegate in the House referred to academic research studies that indicated that long-haul trucking jobs, which are likely to be the first ones that will be replaced by driverless vehicles, will not be replaced by short-haul jobs either in terms of quantity or quality. She added that such jobs usually offer lower wages, and workers may need to relocate to find them.

The impact of trucking automation has been a topic of concern among both Democrats and Republicans. In particular, Republicans have raised major concerns regarding the potential consequences for the trucker workforce. While they acknowledge the potential benefits of automation, such as increased efficiency and reduced costs, they are cautious about the impact on human drivers.

Representative Mike Bost from Illinois expressed his concerns, stating that he wants to ensure that the vital role of human drivers is not overlooked in favor of automation. He also fears that only large trucking companies will have access to automated trucks, which could put smaller companies out of business.

Additionally, Bost is worried about the security of high-tech trucks and the potential threat of cyberattacks. Overall, there is a need to carefully balance the benefits and risks of trucking automation to ensure that it benefits all stakeholders, including workers and smaller businesses.

The Potential Risks Associated With Automated Trucks

According to Bost, it is important to consider the potential risks associated with automated trucks on our roads, especially considering the ability of technologically savvy enemies to exploit vulnerabilities and cause major harm. The possibility of hackers gaining access to autonomous trucks and posing a threat to public safety cannot be ruled out.

Representative LaMalfa, who represents a district with predominantly rural areas, expressed concerns regarding the ability of self-driving trucks to handle the transportation of significant goods such as timber. He raised questions about the transition from rough forest roads to the national highway system, stating that it may present challenges for autonomous vehicles.

This highlights the need for further research and development to ensure the safety and efficiency of automated trucks in all types of transportation scenarios.

According to LaMalfa, there is a need to exercise caution and avoid rushing into the adoption of autonomous systems. He suggests that the purported benefits may not be as significant as they are being portrayed, and it is crucial to evaluate the situation critically before making any decisions.

An appeal for the establishment of guidelines and standards is necessary

During a recent hearing, industry and safety representatives urged Congress to take action on autonomous truck safety regulations. One advocate, Cathy Chase, the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, emphasized the importance of proven technologies, such as automatic emergency braking and speed limiters, being required by regulators as automation continues to grow in the industry. It was suggested that DOT and Congress need to intervene in order to make these safety measures a priority.

During a recent court hearing, CEO of Aurora Innovation, Chris Urmson, and Executive Director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, Jeff Farrah, provided testimony asserting that the autonomous truck technology industry has been forthcoming in disclosing any incidents pertaining to autonomous truck testing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Their statements highlight the industry's commitment to transparency and safety in the development and deployment of autonomous truck technology.

Farrah emphasized the need for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to become more involved by issuing a rulemaking specific to autonomous trucking. This would provide clarity on certain industry issues and instill confidence in AV industry members to continue investing in this technology in the United States.

Spear proposed the implementation of federal-level supervision that would guarantee the uniformity of regulations, anchored on performance standards.

He emphasized the importance of avoiding any bias towards specific policies such as speed limiters, ELDs, and AEBs. The goal was to establish a framework that fosters innovation while avoiding a patchwork of confusing rules that hinder the industry's ability to adopt them.

By implementing such performance standards, the industry could benefit from a cohesive and streamlined approach to regulation across all 50 states.

In Conclusion

The impact of automation on truck driver employment is a complex issue that requires careful consideration. While automation has the potential to increase efficiency and reduce costs, it also has the potential to displace many workers in the trucking industry.

The recent House hearing on this topic provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities presented by automation in the trucking industry and highlighted the need for careful regulation and planning to ensure that the benefits of automation are maximized while minimizing its negative impacts.

As technology continues to advance, it is important that we continue to have open and informed discussions about the impact of automation on employment and take proactive steps to ensure that workers are not left behind.

Remember that driverless trucks and automated vehicles will impact the general economic growth in the coming years.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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