Self-driving vehicle technology has created panic among the general population especially among truckers, their dependents, and the small local economies that are driven by trucker salaries.
The prospects of the technology in the future is not pretty, there will be a decimation of the economies of the smaller cities and towns. The disruption that will be caused by the adoption of self-driving technology has been likened to what happened to the towns bypassed by the interstate highway during its construction.
The truck driving industry is a major component of the American economy. Figures from the American Trucker Association indicate that there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers and a further 5.2 million people employed within the industry.
These trucking-related jobs support entire businesses all around the country that serve their needs such as restaurants and motels that provide food, drink, and rest. These businesses have employed numerous other people and the income they get, support other parts and functions of the economy. The chain is endless accounting for millions of jobs to be lost when the self-driving technology will finally be unveiled and rolled out on the roads.
Having had a look at the not so rosy outlook of the trucking industry, let’s also consider the short term future of the American trucker. It is projected that by the year 2020, there will be a 21 percent increase in the number of truck driving jobs. The demand for truck drivers will rise due to a shortfall of 100,000 drivers to fill up open jobs. The short term future, therefore, looks good for truck drivers since the high demand means better pay.
Enter the Self-Driving Truck
Google surprised the world not a long time ago when it announced that it had not recorded any accidents caused by its self-driving car that has been test-driven for more than 100,000 miles.
Overall, the self-driving cars have clocked over 1.7 million miles in testing and only 11 accidents have been reported all caused by human beings. The number of accidents is considered low since testing has been carried out in metropolitan areas.
Self-driving technology for trucks is available. According to Google’s experience, self-driving vehicles on the freeways carries fewer dangers as compared to driving in the cities. Therefore, driverless freeway travel is closer to been actualized in the short term future. It has fewer technological barriers and it has already happened.
Daimler will be soon putting the driverless trucks on the road which will mark the beginning of a whole decade of testing. The technology is no longer news as well as the hardware itself. The aim is to clock more than a million miles to be evaluated before widespread adoption of driverless technology. Daimler, unlike Google, will be using radar and cameras rather than laser radar. They will have a truck driver in the vehicle to sit back and only intervene when the truck produces an alert. Without any response from the driver, the truck will pull over awaiting further instruction.
The single biggest advantage with the driverless trucks will be the reduction of the number of accidents. 330,000 large truck accidents in the US were reported in 2012 and were linked to more than 4,000 deaths. The accidents were caused by driver errors such as using a mobile phone when driving, tiredness, sleepiness, and drug and alcohol abuse among other distractions.
Overall, there are big savings as well as big profits to be realized with the penetration of the autonomous trucks. Add to it the higher quality and improved safety on the roads. Driverless vehicles are coming if they are not already here.
The legal conundrum surrounding the adoption of the self-driven trucks is the only real barrier. The other challenges of a technical nature or economic nature have been surmounted. It is estimated that driverless vehicles will be made road legal in about a year or a couple of years’ time.
You could see the penetration of driverless cars on the road as soon as 2017!