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Self-Driving Trucks are Here - What are the Economic Consequences?

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

The self-driving vehicle revolution has already started. As of August, self-driving trucks are already making deliveries in Dallas. At the same time, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit in the UK is leading regular trucking company unions to raise alarm over diminished long-haul driver working conditions.

Needless to say, if trucks in the UK were self-driving, there wouldn’t be a problem. The only question is, are self-driving trucks really the answer?

Will Self-Driving Trucks and Cars Devastate the Economy?

In Texas, a company called Kodiak Robotics is already using self-driving trucks to make commercial deliveries. There is just one catch. A fully qualified driver must remain behind the wheel on all routes. There is, if you like, always a human fail-safe at hand in case something goes wrong.

In a way, human fail-safe drivers are the same as men in the 1800’s who use to ride horses in front of steam engines. — They are already obsolete. This is especially true when we look at how fast AI is evolving. This being the case, is the self-driving revolution about to cause sweeping job losses?

Say Goodbye to Uber

Without prancing around the bush, autonomous vehicles are about to make thousands of people jobless. Goldman Sachs estimates that when AI is fully behind the wheel, America could see 300,000+ job losses per year.

Goldman Sachs’ focus, of course, is on the trucking industry. However, anyone who has made a career driving for Uber needs to be fearful too. The focus (for now) on autonomous vehicles is on trucking. In the long-term, though, governments hope to see all kinds of vehicles be self-driving equipped.

- Reducing gaps between vehicles will reduce air drag

- Fuel consumption could be reduced by as much as 20%

- Emissions from vehicles could also be reduced by 20%

Self-driving vehicles, therefore, offer cost savings above and beyond trucker and driver wage savings.

Will Autonomous Vehicles Improve Road Safety?

As well as lower fuel consumption and emissions, autonomous vehicle proponents also believe that self-driving trucks and cars will improve road safety.

Since 2014, there have been 34 deaths recorded in California, which involved self-driving vehicle trials. Officially, though, autonomous vehicles were found to be at fault on only four occasions. The remainder of deaths occurred due to third-party human divers being at fault.

Autonomous Vehicles Could Increase Jobs

It is clear that haulage firms using autonomous vehicles will stand to make substantial savings. This is especially true when it comes to driver wages. However, some argue that the self-driving revolution could signify a boom for the human economy.

Without divers needing to take breaks, goods will arrive faster at distribution centers. Low paid diver jobs lost through automation could, therefore, be recouped in the wider retail and goods distribution sector. In the UK, it is also estimated that automation could see 300,000+ jobs created, as new workers are needed to build and maintain telecommunications networks vital for automation in the first place.

Sadly, diving itself will likely become an occupation of yesteryear eventually. As it stands, though, how soon such a future will manifest is still open to debate.

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