Expect Self-Driving Trucks to Reshape Trucking Industry

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Autonomous vehicle technology will penetrate all aspects of the trucking industry, and self-driving trucks will dramatically change its business model, according to a report from the American Transportation Research Institute, or ATRI.

The study, “Identifying Autonomous Vehicle Technology Impacts on the Trucking Industry,” published by the trucking industry’s research arm Tuesday, said self-driving truck technology is advancing rapidly and will start to change the responsibilities of truck drivers.

The research, said Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations, “underscores how critical it is that the trucking industry have a seat at the table as autonomous vehicle issues are debated.”

“These impacts will be real and have significant consequences for the entire supply chain if they are not deliberately and thoughtfully approached with input from all stakeholders,” he said. “Now is the time to make sure that autonomous vehicle technology is a win-win for the economy.

The study cited several key findings on the future of autonomous vehicles, its impacts on drivers and trucking companies, as well as some pitfalls the industry faces because a federal framework is not in place for companies embracing self-driving technology.

While truck manufacturers, motor carriers and the U.S. Department of Transportation are embracing autonomous vehicles and self-driving trucks as providing significant safety benefits, the ATRI study identified the nation’s infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles as a “weak link” and must include “public sector investment.”

But safety regulators want to see autonomous driving technology rolled out onto U.S. highways

The U.S. Transportation Department has made a commitment to push autonomous vehicle research with “a 10-year, $4 billion investment to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in September.

Approximately 35,000 people died in roadway collisions in 2015 and 94 percent of the crashes “can be tied to a human choice or error,” according to the Department of Transportation.

Sales of autonomous, or self-driving trucks could be as much as 15 percent of sales for trucks by 2035 in the big, Class 8 weight segment, assuming that the technology is adopted and reaches “appreciable levels” by the end of the next decade, according to IHS Markit forecasters.

Still, the number of self-driving heavy-duty trucks will be just a fraction of the 4.5 million autonomous cars expected to be on U.S. roads by 2035.

Global sales of self-driving vehicles are expected to reach approximately 600,000 vehicles by 2025 and grow substantially over the next 10 years, said Egil Juliussen, director of research at IHS Markit.

Related: Self-Driving Trucks: A Future Truckers Should Embrace