What impact might a future filled with self-driving vehicles have on the country’s 1.9 million “heavy and tractor-trailer” truck drivers?
GAO identified two main possibilities in a new report published Thursday: Either trucks are going to be fully automated and won’t need drivers at all anymore, leading to a decrease in the amount of work available for drivers, or they’ll be partially automated and still need operators, but operators with different skills.
In any case, the future seems to be a good five to 10 years out. And this, GAO argues, presents an opportunity for the government. The departments of Transportation and Labor, in particular, the report states, have the luxury of some time to decide how they’re going to respond to these changes on the roadways and in the workforce — and they should start thinking now.
How will automated trucks impact driver employment? How about driver wages? If automated trucks do indeed decrease the number of jobs available for truck drivers, will they also create other jobs as specialized operators or engineers? How many such jobs will be created?
These are some of the questions that GAO says DOT and DOL should be considering, with the help of stakeholders like tech developers, truck drivers, state transportation agencies and more.
GAO admits that DOT has taken some steps in this direction. “However, these agencies have not made plans to continue to convene stakeholders to gather information on an ongoing basis or update their analysis as the technology evolves and the effects become more apparent,” the report states.
So GAO has four recommendations for the two agencies impacted, which boil down to the overall suggestion that DOT and DOL do more thinking about what the workforce impacts of automated trucks will be and start planning policy responses. The agencies agreed with all suggestions.
“Federal agencies have an opportunity to prepare truck drivers for the possible workforce effects of automated trucking,” the report states — but they’ve got to start now.