The human side of driverless trucks

The human side of driverless trucks

Governments must consider ways to manage the transition to driverless trucks in order to avoid potential social disruption from job losses, according to a new report published by the International Transport Forum (ITF) with three partner organisations.

Self-driving trucks will help save costs, lower emissions, and make roads safer. They could also address the shortage of professional drivers faced by road transport industry, the study says.

But automated trucks could reduce the demand for drivers by 50-70% in the US and Europe by 2030, with up to 4.4 million of the projected 6.4 million professional trucking jobs becoming redundant, according to one scenario.

Even if the rise of driverless trucks dissuades newcomers from trucking, over 2 million drivers in the US and Europe could be directly displaced, according to scenarios examined for the report.

The report makes four recommendations to help manage the transition to driverless road freight:

  • Establish a transition advisory board to advise on labour 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 driverless trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols.

These recommendations were agreed jointly by organisations representing truck manufacturers, truck operators and transport workers’ unions, under the auspices of an intergovernmental organisation. This broad coalition of stakeholders lends the call to action particular weight.

The report was prepared jointly by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the road transport’s industry’s global body, in a project led by the International Transport Forum, a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation linked to the OECD.

José Viegas, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum (ITF) said: “Driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next ten years. Self-driving trucks already operate in controlled environments like ports or mines. Trials on public roads are under way in many regions including the United States and the European Union. 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.”

Erik Jonnaert, Secretary General of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), said: “Harmonisation of rules across countries is critical for maximising the gains from driverless truck technology. Automated trucks are clearly not a national issue, as they should be able to move smoothly across borders. We need international standards, legislation and processes to obtain exemptions from road rules that are appropriate for self-driving trucks. Otherwise we risk having a patchwork of rules and regulations, which could hinder manufacturers and road users from investing in automated vehicles.”

Christian Labrot, President, International Road Transport Union (IRU), said: “Autonomous trucks will bring many benefits to society, from cost savings and lower emissions to safer roads. Autonomous vehicles will also help the haulage sector deal with the current shortage of drivers in many parts of the world. However we have to remember the dedicated drivers of today will need to be retrained tomorrow, and we must keep attracting professionals into road transport. We all need to work together for a smooth transition to driverless technology.”

Steve Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said: “Automation in trucking demands a managed and just transition. We strongly welcome the report’s recommendation that trade unions must be part of any such process. We must avoid excessive hardship for truck drivers and ensure the gains from the technology are fairly shared across society. Self-driving trucks threaten to disrupt the careers and lives of millions of professional truck drivers. This report is a timely investigation into how that transition could happen. Its recommendations will help governments to ensure a just transition for affected drivers.”

You can download the report here.

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