Driverless? Autonomous Trucks and the Future of the American Trucker

My current book project (expected Spring 2021) examines the potential impacts of self-driving trucks and how policy will shape them. The trucking industry is expected to be an early adopter of self-driving technology, with tech companies and major truck makers racing to build autonomous trucks. Dozens of reports and news articles suggest automation could eliminate truckers.

By forecasting and assessing multiple scenarios for how self-driving trucks could actually be adopted, my new research projects that the real story will be more nuanced but no less concerning. Autonomous trucks could replace as many as 294,000 long-distance drivers, including some of the best jobs in the industry. Many other freight-moving jobs will be created in their place, perhaps even more than will be lost, but these new jobs will be local driving and last-mile delivery jobs that— absent proactive public policy—will likely be misclassified independent contractors and have lower wages and poor working conditions.

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. Trucking is an extremely competitive sector in which workers often end up absorbing the costs of transitions and inefficiencies. Strong policy leadership is needed to ensure that the benefits of innovation in the industry are shared broadly between technology companies, trucking companies, drivers, and communities.

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