It's a tantalizing headline, all but guaranteed to get people to click on it. "Truckers to be replaced with self-driving trucks." After all, it's one of the largest sources of employment in the United States, with an estimated 3.5 million truckers on the road and about five million additional industry support jobs.
Closer scrutiny reveals that America doesn't have to worry about being awash in unemployed truckers, however, at least not anytime in the next decade or two.
Regulations and Liability
First of all, it's important to recognize that while self-driving vehicles are already on the road, the industry is still very much in a nascent state. Much smaller cars are in the testing phase right now, and the states in which they are being most heavily tested (California and Texas) are still ironing out their own regulatory framework for private ownership and operation. The first successful test of a self-driving truck just recently took place in October of 2016, as an Otto truck made a successful beer delivery run from Ohio to Colorado.
Further tests are just starting on Ohio roads in 2017. It's important to note that a professional driver is in the cab for all of these tests as a safety precaution. Even with this early success under their belts, Otto still feels it will be a minimum of 10 to 20 yearsbefore the industry can seriously consider having a self-driving truck on the road without a human being present for the entirety of the trip.
So, at least for the near future, automation looks more likely to actually make a trucker's job easier than it is to put them out of their seat. Again, laws and regulation are still not in place for the most part, but it's a sure bet that just from a liability standpoint companies are going to want to have someone physically present in the cab for a very long time to come. The costs savings to the trucking industry looks to come more from increased safety on the road and reduction of expenses such as workers comp and fines rather than cutting actual truckers out of the equation.