With the autonomous trucking revolution poised to deliver a devastating blow to trucking jobs around the globe, an international industry group called on policy makers to play a stronger role in managing the social and economic impacts of this disruptive transition.
In a report released Wednesday, the International Transport Forum said up to 70 percent of all trucking jobs could be wiped out by 2030 as a result of self-driving trucks. The ITF, a think tank that operates within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, issued the study at the start of its annual summit that gathers transportation ministers from its 57 member countries.
While routine use of fully autonomous trucks is likely a decade or more away, the ITF emphasized that the pace of evolution seems to be accelerating. As such, governments should begin to take urgent steps immediately to plan for the upheaval.
“Driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next ten years,” said José Viegas, Secretary-General of the ITF, in a statement. “Manufacturers are investing heavily into automation, and many governments are actively reviewing their regulations. Preparing now for potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs.”
From the industry's point of view, the coming era of autonomous vehicles promises an array of benefits, the ITF noted. These include dramatic cost savings, reduced pollution, fewer accidents, and a solution to the chronic shortage of drivers.
By the same measure, jobs for professional truck drivers would eventually be eviscerated. The report estimates that self-driving trucks could cut such jobs by 50 percent to 70 percent in the U.S. and Europe by 2030. That represents 4.4 million of the existing 6.4 million jobs.
The ITF says that in the coming years, the prospect of autonomous vehicles will likely dissuade many potential drivers from even entering the field, something that could make the driver shortage worse in the short-term for trucking companies. Over the long run, that could mean that only 2 million actual drivers lose jobs during the transition.
Still, that's a remarkable number that could have serious economic and political ramifications for countries already fighting high unemployment among working-class residents. As such the ITF called on its members to create an advisory board for labor issues, create a permitting system that helps make the rate of adoption more predictable, and agree to international regulations for this emerging industry.
“We have to remember the dedicated drivers of today will need to be retrained tomorrow, and we must keep attracting professionals into road transport,” said Christian Labrot, president of the International Road Transport Union, said in a statement. “We all need to work together for a smooth transition to driverless technology.”
That said, the ITF urged its members to continue pursuing self-driving trucks.
But to ease the transition to driverless road freight, the organization, and its truck manufacturers, driver groups and labor union advisors, made four recommendations.
- Establish a transition advisory board to advise on labor issues.
- Consider a temporary permit system to manage the speed of adoption.
- Set international standards, road rules and vehicle regulations for self-driving trucks.
- Continue pilot projects with self-driving trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols.